There are very few occasions when I say that it seems like a movie was crafted for me. This is one of those moments. It ticks all the boxes I love when it comes to horror.
I will give already a warning for a lot of blood, flashing neon lights and many cases of sexual assault shown in the film for those who need it.
Also, Spoilers oncoming so go watch this film before or just take the risk and read it.
Eloise (Thomansin McKenzie) is a hopeful ingenue just coming from Cornwall to London to study fashion in the prestigious college situated in Soho. She finds it hard to fit in, with her self-made clothes compared to the bought prestigious brands her classmates are wearing. She decides to move into an old flat rented by Ms Collins (the late and great Diana Rigg) from which many tenants have left suddenly. When she closes her eyes to sleep she finds herself in a world of 1960s Soho nightlife, mirroring and soon embodying the mysterious starry eyed and hopeful singer Sandie (a terrific Anya Taylor-Joy). This life becomes an addiction, as she sings, watches and enjoys her own paradise dreamworld. But soon, things take a twisted turn as past and future begin to mirror one another, causing ruptures in both worlds.
Thomansin McKenzie is someone whom I could relate to immediately. Being new to a city myself to study, a love for the vintage styles and music that might not be on the most popular playlists. She is thoroughly herself, but still insecure and to keep her spirits up is more and more immersed into the things she likes. Her only true friend is John played by Michael Ajao, he respects her and it is just wonderful to see. Their slowly burning romance from friendship will make anyone smile.
Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie is earning her place among the greats one movie at a time. Exuding an old glamour of past Hollywood stars and adding to her star power by singing many versions of the title song. She is both tough and vulnerable, a starry eyed hopeful broken in the end by the cruelty of a dream word she (and Eloise) both thought was the truth. Matt Smith charms us as Jack before making us want to punch him.
“Don’t cry my baby as they lead me where no love can help me.” So goes a lyrics from the song by English band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tick whose hit pop song gave its name to this movie. Initially about a criminal trying to go good this movie turns that lyric into a tragic cry for help for all those whose lives are often forgotten in the shadows when history books are written. Those forgotten as we make a moment in history glamorous, consumable and attractive to seek comfort in times we have never even lived in. Yet, we must always remember that it is a fantasy. As the saying goes in the historical costume/vintage community “Vintage style, but not Vintage values”. Those values, while we seek our comfort, should not be forgotten, because the truth we experience is very different from someone else’s – especially from a marginalised group of people.
Edgar Wright, the director, whom I have regrettably not mentioned yet, has makes us see her joy in enjoying these old tracks and the fashions. She wants the dream world she has created in her head of this 1960s Soho, which is only true for a moment, until it is greatly destroyed and twisted. Wright makes this dream world seductive in both its beauty and its music (fantastically scored by Steven Price with added tracks from the time period) and joy. The more beautiful it is, the more it gets destroyed, one piece at a time.
Many times I found myself reminded of Dario Argento’s Suspiria as the neon lights flashed outside of Eloise’s window and yet other times from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. One is a story of a woman in a new town trying to find her place, while the latter is ultimately the story of a woman morphed and manipulated by someone she loves. The first one is Eloise, the second is Sandi. The tricks are simple and effective, perfectly immersing yourself in this world where time travel and ghosts are as real as the horrors of the real world. The many mirror images created by the cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung are breathtaking. Mirrors are after all the places we see ourselves, yet we never think that the image we see is reversed.
And the reverse of what we expect happens here. We see a stabbing or we think we see one. Jack killing Sandie. But as the reveals come we realise that it is in fact reverse. Sandi, haw had enough and fights back. Killing her pimp and soon every man who propositions to her, hiding their bodies in the walls of her home. Diana Rigg is splendid as she explains, with a hollowed expression, without remorse why and how she did it. She is a murderer, no question about that, yet as we have seen the literal hands of bad men grab and pull Eloise we know that they deserved what they got. In true gothic fashion the house burns down, along with its secrets. A cremation for Sandie/Alexandra/Ms Collins as she sits there, letting herself be consumed with the only place she called home, yet it was also a prison.
This movie left me with a feeling that even though the ending was happy, that I wasn’t confident that it was actually the ending. Or maybe I have become too cynical in these times. A happy ending to the who deserve it after the horror this movie has put through is good, it always is, yet it almost felt too good to be true. This film will probably haunt me the same way Alexandra now haunts Eloise, in the mirror. The ‘Downtown’ song has already made its way into my brain.
The Love Witch (2016) by Anna Biller is one of my favourite movies of all time, my dear Halloween watch. There is the shared aesthetics of the mid- to late psychedelic 60s and themes about the Patriarchy that are shouted loud and clear. This could, in a way, serve as a companion watch to it. I would recommend it.
In the end, both of the so called “Femme Fatales” of the film (this and Love Witch) take a knife and stab and kill the one who causes them pain. It is the only power they have left, since everything else has been taken from them already in body and soul. Leaving them only a husk of their former selves in a world where they are both judged and lusted for their body, but never for their soul.
Thank you for reading!