No one makes thrillers like Park Chan-wook does, whether you’re watching a film like Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, or The Handmaiden, they always feel like there’s much more going on beyond the usual mystery at hand. This is where now, with Decision to Leave, Park Chan-wook goes forth with making a film clearly echoing the films of Alfred Hitchcock and the like, and he shows himself to be the closest thing we have to a modern-day equivalent. Like The Handmaiden, it’s very evidently romantic, but also just deeply twisted in ways that tap into the darkest desires of those around you, to the point that the central mystery isn’t the entire thrill as much as it is the whole world that Park builds to surround it.
Not many filmmakers are as eager to show their own love of film through their own work like Edgar Wright can be. In Last Night in Soho, he moves away from comedy completely to make a horror film, yet also an obvious love letter to a city he’s stated that he had fallen in love with over the years. With that in mind, you can only expect that Last Night in Soho would be bound to become maybe Edgar Wright’s most ambitious feature to date, though the result isn’t always successful. Despite this, there’s still a lot worth loving about what Edgar Wright brings to the table in this journey back through London in the 1960’s.
A fitting note for the film to start can be found in Thomasin Mckenzie’s Eloise Turner dancing to Peter and Gordon’s “A World Without Love.” Her character is an ambitious fashion student, moving to London to pursue her studies, but in her new home she finds herself able to see a vision of London from the 1960’s, where she embodies a new persona. This new persona is none other than Anya Taylor-Joy’s Sandy, an aspiring singer, whom Eloise idolizes – and forms the basis of her designs. To Eloise, the 1960’s was an era she evidently obsesses over, as shown from the film’s soundtrack, but the more she sees from Sandy’s perspective the dream she once thought of only reveals a terrifying history.
From looking at a trailer for Last Night in Soho, it’d be easy enough to assume that Edgar Wright would be getting his influence from the giallo films of Dario Argento and the like, but instead what I saw was a portrait of London owing more to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (both of which are among Edgar Wright’s favourite films). While Wright certainly is a filmmaker who knows how to make the most out of his influences, the core of his own works is one that seems somewhat lacking. Nonetheless, together with the work of Chung-hoon Chung (a regular cinematographer of South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook), what’s brought out from Last Night in Soho is among the most beautiful that an Edgar Wright film has looked.
There’s a lot that could be done with a premise of this sort, where an aspiring fashion designer travels back in time to see an era where she got her inspiration for what it really is. The horrifying reality of her own dreams is what in turn makes for an interesting turn for Edgar Wright in the long run, but with how Wright delivers on these scares, it leaves his message fumbling onward. As far as Wright’s films have gone, this might be the most he’s ever been able to embrace the gore but there’s only so much to go when talking about what Wright brings out in that regard. For as extreme as he can get with the infliction of violence and its cyclical and traumatic effect upon future generations, its message only finds itself muddled – both in its final moments and the framing of the film as a love letter to London in the 1960’s.
Edgar Wright has never been one to let down with the erratic nature of how his films are put together, although there came a point in Last Night in Soho where I feel like the film would have benefited from having that same energy felt in his Cornetto films. When watching Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead and the like, the core of those films feels so clear in how they are willing to engage with a familiar text yet felt subversive enough in a way that could only be attributed to Wright. But Last Night in Soho lacks that same punch. I say this in the sense that what the film turns into is nothing more than a generic ghost story about a cycle of violence that has targeted women, and exploited them, but to talk about how these moments are framed seems to leave behind an icky aftertaste – especially when talking how it all pays off in its twist ending. The images repeat, continuously torturing its lead character, but they leave little of substance.
I don’t wish to dwell so heavily on the negatives, though, because you’re bound to have fun with watching an Edgar Wright movie in some capacity. Wright brings out great work from both Thomasin Mckenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy. But it’s worth noting that in their final performances, the late Margaret Nolan and Diana Rigg deliver with what little they have to show in here. But for as stacked as this cast was, there’s a lot of fun to be had with Matt Smith and Terence Stamp in their just as impactful roles. If anything, what you’re seeing out of them can be enough to leave you thrown off for the many surprises that come along the way. Wright brings the most out of his astoundingly stacked cast, and they all deliver.
It should not be any surprise that Last Night in Soho may turn out polarizing at the time of its wide release. For all the beautiful moments that Edgar Wright dedicates into creating this loving tribute to the city he loves, the message he delivers is one that feels quite messy. Yet maybe that was the goal, because it does its job at putting his viewers in an emotionally difficult spot, which is fitting when you consider Wright’s approach to its gender politics. Wright’s craft is as vibrant as it’s ever been since his collaborations with Simon Pegg, but perhaps his ideas don’t blend well with that aesthetic. I’m interested to see what comes in the near future for Edgar Wright with genre fare, even if my own reservations ultimately keep me from believing this is completely within the right step.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Focus Features.
Directed by Edgar Wright Screenplay by Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns Produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Edgar Wright Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp, Margaret Nolan, Diana Rigg Release Date: October 29, 2021 Running Time: 116 minutes
The start of Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is one that already feels very indicative of an entire culture that’s been enabling men to be at their absolute worst, especially regarding their treatment of women – even after the prominence of the Me Too movement in recent years. But the moment you see Carey Mulligan finally arise to put the supposed “nice guy” back in his place, Fennell’s film starts to show its true colours – and that’s all among the most admirable aspects that shines thoroughly in this new take on the rape and revenge story. What follows from then on, what Promising Young Woman will provide will not leave your head either.
In the starring role is Carey Mulligan, playing Cassie Thomas. We’re introduced to Cassie at a bar, seemingly drunk, before being taken in by a man that introduces himself as a “nice guy,” perfectly setting the tone for this would-be revenge thriller. Cassie, having been traumatized by the rape and eventual death of her best friend Nina, seeks to exact vengeance upon those who have led her down this path. What soon follows is not any other revenge thriller but rather an interrogation of rape culture, taking on that same structure we’ve come to recognize over the years. What’s happened to Nina is thankfully never shown in the film, but in seeing how her tragedy is what pushes Cassie on
Emerald Fennell’s goal is an admirable one; and during its peaks, Promising Young Woman takes such a bold stance with regards to how people are far too willing to cast doubts on an accusation of rape – and ultimately where it leads. From the first moment onward, you’re seeing the perfect way in which a supposed “nice guy” can really have that cover blown off by what they’re ultimately tempted to take upon themselves (as shown again through a brilliant scene with Christopher Mintz-Plasse later on in the film), contrasting the fantasy that many rape-and-revenge thrillers of the past have created. We’ve seen in the film’s marketing, every man’s worst nightmare is getting accused of rape – but why must that overpower the fact that women in Cassie’s position have feared men who take that “nice guy” stance to their advantage?
At the center of this film is a career best performance from the always wonderful Carey Mulligan. In how she personifies Cassie, that vengeful spirit damaged by a person whom she loved so much having been taken away from her so cruelly after what she had undergone, Mulligan puts her all into that role. She manages to be both endearing and intimidating in the best possible ways, like the best-crafted heroes of these revenge films can be, going from Ms .45 or Lady Snowblood, leaving you with that idea she could easily be among those ranks. There’s never a moment where she’s onscreen where you’ll ever find yourself looking away out of fear, but curiosity for what she’ll do to the next man who dares cross her.
Surely enough, this movie will prove itself divisive – with the look of a rape-and-revenge thriller it can’t quite escape that feeling it’ll be exploitative and not enough at the same time. Nevertheless, there’s a refreshing feeling coming out from Fennell not showing Nina’s rape, because it’s something we’d seen too many times but the effect upon which it has left upon Cassie can still be felt. In seeing how it all adds up, Cassie has now turned towards the destructive, towards the people around her – but even to her own self. But there comes a question we ask ourselves about the devastating reality which the film’s ending proposes to its audience. Personally, I cannot say I am sure that it entirely works – but it becomes near impossible to delve into what the film proposes at said moment without spoiling it for those who have not seen it, so I cannot say much at the very moment.
Although I acknowledge my reservations about the direction in which the film had gone ultimately keep me from loving it, I can’t help but feel as if there will be many important talks about the way in which we approach rape culture coming forth as a result of how Promising Young Woman puts many of these positions to the test. In its moments of dark comedy it still flashes you with a more devastating picture, one that combats the culture which has only been perpetuated over the years by constantly buying into the “nice guy” mirage. At its very best, you still have a film that perfectly replicates the look you’d want a film of this sort to take on, but I can’t shake off that feeling that where it becomes too much, it turns itself into too little at the same time. When Emerald Fennell comes out with a new film, I do look forward to seeing how it will turn out.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Focus Features.
Directed by Emerald Fennell Screenplay by Emerald Fennell Produced by Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara, Tom Ackerley, Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton Release Date: December 25, 2020 Running Time: 113 minutes
Following all the Jason Bourne-esque action thrillers that we’ve come to see over the years it became much more difficult to find a supposedly “gritty” film that ever manages to be every bit as shocking as it promises. This is where we talk Extraction, the directorial debut of Sam Hargrave based on a comic book created by none other than the Russo brothers, following the fame they’ve achieved from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One could ever hope for Chris Hemsworth’s charisma to drive the film forward as it indulges in the excessive violence but unfortunately for every moment it boasts said aspect it also is incredibly dull.
Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is one of the most beautiful, yet disorienting animated films ever made. Although the film was originally conceived as a live action feature, an earthquake destroyed the studio which later resulted in the film’s budget being used to turn the same story into that for an animated film, and with the very vision that Kon creates for his directorial debut, it’s hard to see Perfect Blue any other way. With Perfect Blue, it’s astonishing how Kon utilizes the medium in order to create a deeply layered tale for what’s only his first feature, leaving behind one of the most harrowing thrillers of the 1990’s.
Although many elements that have defined David Cronenberg’s earlier work are absent in Dead Ringers, it still nonetheless the film that I consider to be him at his best. While it may be more toned down in terms of the gore when you put it next to The Fly or Videodrome, Dead Ringers does not ever lose sight of the horror of bodily alterations and mutations that have created the images we love and recognize from his work: but what also comes forth is the film that I believe to be the king of venereal horror at his most psychologically complex. But even at his more restrained that same horror can still be felt on the inside, creating a beautifully tragic and terrifying tale.
Leigh Whannell’s spin on the classic H. G. Wells story initially started off as another entry in what was supposed to be Universal’s failed “Dark Universe,” which sought to bring together many of cinema’s most iconic horror monsters into their own shared universe. But after The Mummy had failed and said universe has only remained shelved ever since, Blumhouse took interest in reviving this project – turning it into a small-budget horror like all their most notable releases and what came forth from that is more than just a new contextualization of the Wells tale. The Invisible Man is every bit as terrifying as it can also be fun, but seeing what Whannell could do with the Wells classic to adapt it for a modern audience only further strengthens the film’s impact.
After Hours isn’t the sort of film that many would normally associate a director like Martin Scorsese with; yet despite that I also believe it to be one of his best films to date. Amidst his struggle to find the necessary funding in order to bring The Last Temptation of Christ to the big screen, he follows up the box office failure of The King of Comedy with After Hours, one of the funniest films of the 1980’s. What already shows itself to be one ordinary guy’s bad night, Martin Scorsese turns what should seem like a simple comedy about a blind date gone horribly wrong into the most bizarre film of his career. Yet the fact that Martin Scorsese was able to make something like this in his long career also showcases his many talents as a filmmaker.
There’s something scary about the mere thought that what you’re witnessing in Queen & Slim could be very well happening today. Yet there’s a greater resonance that comes forth from how the stories of many black lives across the United States have been immortalized – most often not for their achievements, but as symbols against racism after their lives have unjustly been cut short. In this feature debut from music video director Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim tells a story of a modern day Bonnie & Clyde – lovers who are on the run from the law, after having been thrusted into a life or death situation. What soon follows is a harrowing, if occasionally frustrating tale of life or death, with a dash of social relevance within today’s political climate.
When talking about the greatest science fiction films of the 21st century, for me only one film comes to mind when talking about the very best of such and that film is none other than Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. Although its setting into the future may not have exactly predicted the turn of events in our world to come, there’s still something scary about the fact that we as a species have come so dangerously close to approaching the chaotic world that Children of Men shows us especially if the political climate only ever encourages such mayhem. Worth noting is the fact that Children of Men had barely made enough money to recoup its budget back when it came out, only being reflective of what it feels to be ignored when a message so important needs to find its way to get out. You’ll only watch a film like this wondering how come it actually happens to be so prescient, but at the same time you’d never want any of this to feel like it could become our own reality. You don’t ever want to see something like this happening, and you can continue telling yourself that it won’t ever become the truth, but that’s what makes Children of Men stick its landing so beautifully.