I am not a horror fan, but I am an absolute sucker for a sadistic twist that makes you think about things. Last Night in Soho’s twist is so good, I pick up new foreshadowing and see things differently each time I re-watch it.
It’s about a girl named Ellie who can see and sense things others cannot about people and places. Whether this drives her fondness for the 1960s is unclear, but she’s obsessed with that decade and wishes she had lived in that era. She moves to Soho to attend fashion school and after a few run-ins with her obnoxious roommate, decides to rent a room elsewhere—and winds up in a flat on a street that used to be “the red light district.” It’s the perfect room for her, since it hasn’t changed since the 60s.
Her first night there, she has a dream about a girl named Sandy who meets up with a man named Jack willing to “take her to the top.” Ellie becomes so entranced by their world, she avoids making friends to sleep, so she can return to them in her dreams. She idolizes Sandy and changes her appearance to look like her—dying her hair blonde and spending all her money on 60s inspired outfits, even using Sandy’s scarlet gown as inspiration for her fashion project.
But after a couple of nights of living in their world, her dreams start to deteriorate and make her unhappy, as she sees the unpleasant side of the 60s… sexual trafficking, misogyny, and addiction. The more time she spends in her dreams, the more they bleed into her waking hours. She sees faceless ghosts wherever she turns and becomes convinced Sandy was murdered.
There’s so much to think about in this movie, it set my juices flowing, but talking about it means revealing the twists. I’ll mark the biggest spoilers.
What stands out the most is the idea of choosing a fantasy over reality. Ellie isn’t “prepared” to handle the real world (coping with other students at school, socializing, and dating boys) so she dives into an illusion hoping to find comfort. She can’t cope with the idea that the 60s are not “wonderful,” and as she sees more of their tawdry side, becomes distraught. Ellie has romanticized the past, and struggles to accept the reality of it.
Many people long to live in a simpler time, but do not want to accept that their romanticized view denies the reality of sin and human nature. Often, we learn the truth through someone’s experiences (as Ellie does through Sandy). In Ellie’s mind, the 60s embody a time of glamour and glitz, of beautiful women with bouffant hairstyles and big dreams. But Sandy lived among misogyny and pimps, where if you want your “big dreams,” you have to sleep with powerful men. Her ambitions of being a singer leads her to work in peep shows and then prostitution. Jack turns out to be a pimp, not a manager, and when she tries to get away, he threatens her with a knife.
The past is not as glamorous as we make it out to be; nothing has ever been “better” or “more innocent.” There’s always been sin, corruption, and predators, and it does no one any favors to pretend otherwise. But our black and white modern views do not suit us, either. No time has ever been all good or all bad, just as no person is all good or all bad.
Massive spoilers after this point.
Sandy was not a mere victim, but also a victimizer. Ellie believes Jack murdered Sandy, but the truth is Sandy murdered Jack. She became a serial killer who took vengeance on her clients. Ellie has been wrong about everything. The film never explains how she saw the wrong thing, but I think it’s because she became so attached to a fictional version of Sandy, she sees what she wants to see, that fits her fondness for Sandy.
It reminds me of how we pick sides based on our biases and believe what we want to, and are shocked when the truth about people doesn’t fit our narrative. This is how people deny the truth about their loved ones and accommodate abusers. Like a wife who doesn’t want to hear that her new husband is molesting her daughter, and says it must be a lie. How can peopleprotect abusers? By refusing to accept the reality, in favor of their rose-colored interpretation of someone. The men in the movie say Sandy wound up “where she wanted to be” as an excuse for the abuse she endured, and while it’s true she could have left Soho at any time physically, a victim caught in a bad situation does not often feel powerful enough to do it. A mental prison is just as effective as a physical one. She chose to stay in Soho after she killed Jack and kill other people.
It turns out that Ellie has a rose-colored view of a serial killer, which is a twist I love; not only does her fantasy not play out as she thought, but it almost kills her. The movie could have made Sandy just a victim, but it turned her into a victimizer which is.. realistic. Abuse perpetrates cycles of abuse. It asks us to have compassion for Sandy in her abusive situation and for the men she killed. Just because they “deserved it” doesn’t mean she had the right to kill them. All men are not bad, and all women are not saints, either.
It’s human nature to see things in moral absolutes, which is how we turn on each other; by insisting the person’s actions, words, or deeds makes us persecuting them right. It’s why Jesus’ message of loving one another and offering each other forgiveness instead of stoning them is just as radical today as it was two thousand years ago. Our nature is to seek revenge, not forgiveness; to exploit each other, not to love each other; to hate and fear others who think differently from us. Right now, we live in a world that wants to embrace moral absolutes with no room for forgiveness or tolerance. It wants to condemn previous eras and individuals in retrospect for their actions, from a lofty idealistic moral perspective, without having walked in their shoes and without acknowledging that their own view is biased, or may not even be an accurate interpretation of someone.
Humans tell stories. We want to believe our viewpoint is reality and fail to see our bias. We like Sandy, so we want to see her as a victim, and to find out she is a serial killer is a shock. Her death was not literal, but metaphorical – “I died a hundred times in that room.” Ellie couldn’t work out the truth, because she clung to the narrative she wanted to believe. Doing that makes us blind; we must be open to viewpoints that contradict our experiences, beliefs, or perspectives if we want to see the truth. The truth jolts us out of our delusion.
I won’t spoil the secondary big reveal at the end, but it’s spectacularly done, and once you know the end, you can re-watch it and see the subtle hints the director gives you throughout. It’s not a perfect movie, but it doesn’t have to be… it’s neither all good or all bad, and the fact that it doesn’t have a moral it is trying to shove down our throats is one reason I like it. You are free to interpret it as you choose, to agree or disagree with how Ellie deals with Sandy, but either way, it leaves you something to think about.
Note: it’s rated R, so check out the content before you rent, to see if it’s appropriate for you. (There are some f-words, make-out sessions/ implied prostitution, brief nudity, and bloody flashbacks to people being murdered.)
For fun, here’s the point where I fell in love with this movie and its practical effects / dreamworld.