Nostalgia can be murder in ‘Last Night in Soho’

Anya Taylor-Joy (left) and Thomasin McKenzie star in “Last Night in Soho.”

I’ve written about the nostalgia cycle before, but if you don’t know, it’s when the lifestyles, trends or art forms from the historical past — such as music, movies, fashion, etc. — are popular with the younger generation again 20 or 30 years after they were first introduced.

For example, there was a lot of 1950s nostalgia in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, while a lot of TV shows from the 1960s and early ‘70s saw movie adaptations released in the 1990s. For the past decade, culture from the 1980s has flooded plenty of entertainment with huge TV hits like “Stranger Things” to throwback music from Bruno Mars.

But what’s especially rare is a nostalgia cycle of the second degree where things from 50 to 60 years ago are popular with the kids, and that’s where “Last Night in Soho” comes in. Through a bit of supernatural storytelling and intriguing filmmaking, the film splits its time between modern-day London and the London of the Swinging Sixties.

Of course, coming from writer-director Edgar Wright, there’s a lot more layers and symbolism to the film. By setting up a fantastical time-bending journey, Wright is able to ask bold questions about what role nostalgia plays in our lives, why some things change while others stay the same and the importance of being your true self even when it’s difficult.

Delivered in a sleek and expertly crafted production, “Last Night in Soho” is a unique, original thriller with a mesmerizing cast and a director at the top of his game. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite finish as strong as it starts, but it’s a worthwhile popcorn flick just by being smarter and more original than most blockbusters out today.

Ellie (played by Thomasin McKenzie) is an aspiring fashion designer who has arrived in London from the rural countryside. With a love of everything 1960s, she doesn’t really fit in with the rest of her classmates.

After renting an apartment from the sweet Miss Collins (Diana Rigg), Ellie’s first night is not what she expected. Because once she falls asleep, Ellie is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s, where she encounters dazzling wannabe singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is picked up by nightclub manager Jack (Matt Smith) who promises her a career in show business.

However, the glamour is not all it appears to be as Sandie’s dreams of being a main-stage singer slowly turn into a much darker role with no chance of escaping Jack’s control. Unfortunately, the more often Ellie visits the ‘60s at night, the harder it is to separate her dreams from reality during the day.

Best known for his comedy films, this is Wright’s first foray into horror and thriller films with little to no comedy in sight. And although there are some bumps along the way, his dedication to his craft and wanting to tell this story right are evident on the screen.

Much of the film’s success is due to the exceptional cast, especially McKenzie and Taylor-Joy. Although still relatively new in Hollywood, both actresses have already made their marks in Oscar-winning dramas and box-office hits, but it’s great to see them really push their acting chops even further here. They can both easily portray the glamour of the Swinging Sixties, so seeing them in such dark and horrible places later in the film is effective.

As with most Wright films, the secondary star is the soundtrack, which, given the story’s time period, is full of classic hits. Rigg’s character agrees with Ellie’s idea that the music was better then, and I have to agree. From Dusty Springfield to the Kinks, James Ray to Sandie Shaw, the music is fantastic throughout, peaking with a haunting cover of “Downtown” sung by Taylor-Joy.

Without giving too much away, the way Wright cautions the audience about nostalgia and the danger that having an idealized version of decades past can be dangerous, especially since every era has its negatives that can’t be ignored.

When Ellie first arrives in London, a cabbie tells her the city of today hasn’t much changed since the 1960s — a dark omen of what she soon comes to see. “Last Night in Soho” is an entertaining movie to be sure, but also a cautionary one.

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)

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