By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Director Edgar Wright made one of movie history’s most auspicious genre debuts with 2004’s rom-zom-com SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and followed it with further genre sendups HOT FUZZ and THE WORLD’S END, as well as the pop culture-suffused SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD and BABY DRIVER. But he’s never made a film before like LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, an intoxicating plunge into the swinging London of the 1960s that becomes his first straight-faced horror movie. RUE MORGUE spoke with Wright and his co-scripter Krysty Wilson-Cairns about this striking transitional film.
LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, opening tomorrow, October 29 from Focus Features, stars JOJO RABBIT’s Thomasin McKenzie (interviewed here) as Eloise, a small-town girl who travels to London to attend fashion university. After moving into a top-floor flat in an old building, she begins taking dreamlike nocturnal trips to the city in its ’60s heyday, where similarly aged Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy from THE WITCH and SPLIT) is determined to become a singer. As Sandie navigates a milieu where it’s easy to be exploited or worse, Eloise finds her existence increasingly tied to Sandie’s, and the seductive pull of London’s nightlife transforming into a nightmare. With a cast also including Matt Smith (DOCTOR WHO) and British screen veterans Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp and Rita Tushingham, Wright and Wilson-Cairns have crafted a film that’s dramatically engrossing, visually stunning and sometimes powerfully frightening.
Edgar, why was now the right time for you to do a serious thriller/horror film after making a number of comedic variations?
EDGAR WRIGHT: I’ve always wanted to do this, and it’s been sort of percolating in my head for like, 10 years. I think after BABY DRIVER, I wanted to do something radically different. I guess BABY DRIVER was a step away from the films that I’d done before; it wasn’t a comedy, it was a thriller with funny bits in it, but I wanted to go further still into darker territory. It was just a story that I wanted to tell, through a love of the genre, and usually I’m led by the idea of trying to recreate the specific tone of a film or films that I like, and that are missing–a feeling that I get from certain classics that I don’t feel today.
LAST NIGHT IN SOHO could be described as the most expensive giallo ever made, so can you talk about what giallo means to you, and how you brought that to your film?
WRIGHT: I’ve always enjoyed that genre; I’ve found it really entertaining throughout my life. Probably the first ones I saw as a teenager were THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and then DEEP RED. I think DEEP RED is actually the best of all of them, in fact. SUSPIRIA is fantastic, but I believe DEEP RED is Dario Argento’s best movie, maybe because the story is just brilliant. And over the years, I’ve gone on a deeper and deeper dive of trying to watch all of them. But in a way, with this movie, I was sort of going backwards, being just as inspired by the movies that inspired them. I’d say that the Italian giallo movement is their interpretation of movies by Alfred Hitchcock or Michael Powell, so when writing this, I was more looking back at the inspirations for that movement, some of which are British films.
KRYSTY WILSON-CAIRNS: I suppose I had seen some of them at film school, late nights at the cinema watching them, though it wasn’t until I was starting this work with Edgar, and a stack of DVDs as tall as I am arrived at my house, that I truly understood what they were all about. DEEP RED is obviously fantastic. But yeah, like Edgar said, the real inspiration, I suppose, is those [earlier] psychological thrillers.
Music is obviously very important to setting the scene for the film, and the world it takes place in. How does it work with the genre component as well?
WRIGHT: I honed in on a specific era of music within the ’60s–that mid-’60s classic pop period, particularly the female singers of the time: Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and Sandie Shaw. I always felt that their songs were so emotional, they were almost little mini-operas sometimes, and I liked the idea of using them because there’s an element of LAST NIGHT IN SOHO where it becomes rather expressionistic. And really, to talk about giallo inspirations, in terms of what Mario Bava and Dario Argento did with color, I’ve always thought one of the big inspirations for them must have been Powell and [Emeric] Pressburger’s BLACK NARCISSUS. That film doesn’t have a lot of plot bearings on LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, but I thought about it a lot because there’s this ambiguity in the movie as to why everybody is behaving so strangely. Are they genuinely haunted, or is it just the high altitude? Other directors would do it later, where they take what’s happening into this sort of expressionistic area where it feels like you’re watching something operatic. Obviously, Powell and Pressburger did that in THE RED SHOES, and I wanted to do almost the ’60s pop version of that.
So wedding together those songs with these sequences was a joy for me, because you can use them in a kind of joyous context, like in the movie’s first half-hour, but then also use them to kind of counter-score scenes, or even sometimes subvert the songs themselves. I’m sure you noticed in the film that there’s a Sandie Shaw song, “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” that starts, and then it becomes a warped and sinister version through Steven Price’s score. In that particular case, we actually had to get permission from Sandie Shaw’s publishers to do a new version of the song.
For me, hearing that song was also one of those “Wait, that was a cover?” moments, because I grew up with the Naked Eyes version of “Always Something There” in the early ’80s.
WRIGHT: There’s quite a few of those in the movie. I did that deliberately, where people say, “Oh, I didn’t realize that George Harrison song was a cover!”
LAST NIGHT IN SOHO starts out as a drama, and doesn’t get into serious genre territory until about the halfway point. How did you handle that transition?
WRIGHT: That was always the intention of it, from the outline; in the same way that Eloise needs to be seduced by the bright lights of the ’60s, we wanted to seduce the audience. So you’re being kind of lulled into a false sense of security. What Krysty and I had real fun with was planting the red flags along the way. So even in the first kind of dream sequences, there are tells as to what’s coming. I’ve always been a big fan of films that have kind of a slow burn to what they’re getting into; it’s similar to SHAUN OF THE DEAD or THE WORLD’S END, in terms of, it starts as one thing and then slowly morphs into another. I’ve always liked those sorts of movies, and in this one, the genre elements start to slowly creep in, and then when it takes hold, it’s like, the first half is a dream and the second half is a nightmare.
WILSON-CAIRNS: I just think that with genre, you can be fluid. You can have this sort of movement through the story, where it starts off as a sort of coming-of-age film, moves into a psychological thriller and then ends up as a big old-fashioned horror story.
As a first-timer to Wright’s world, how was the process of collaborating with him?
WILSON-CAIRNS: Absolutely delightful! Edgar and I were friends before we began, and so turning up to work to write the script was basically just hanging out with my very talented, very cool pal who has lots of great stories and great taste in music. It was an absolute delight.
The film has a lot to say about women’s experiences both in the ’60s and today, so how did you approach that part of the script?
WILSON-CAIRNS: I believe, certainly when you’re doing a horror film, that you need to write something that does actually scare you. And toxic masculinity, and the exploitation of women, does actually scare me. That was all there in the outline and the story from the get-go, and it was just about picking the moments to pull that out. I really am proud that we did that in a genre film, because it’s there if you want to read it, but it’s also just a very entertaining movie. A lot of people might not go and see a drama or a documentary about those issues, but they will quite happily go watch a genre film and be transported, and then be left with a message.