Thursday, October 28, 2021

It's Safe and Calm If You Sing Along

"And so it goes, and so it goes. And the book says, 'We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us.'" 

That line from Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia might as well be stitched into the seams of Anya Taylor-Joy's jazzy pink mini frock in Edgar Wright's terrific new time-hopping horror flick Last Night in Soho, out this week, so succinct is it at getting to the point. Anderson was concerned with the way past traumas bubble in in the present place, frothing up and over until they become nonsense storms of amphibians spilling out of the sky, and Wright's doing the same, only instead of frogs it's muddle-faced walls of rape-ghosts careening down every ye olde alley in London-town -- same gist, different gist-er.

Is there even room for Ghost Stories in Modern Living anymore? Is there space, I mean, and time enough -- we move awfully fast and if there's one thing ghosts shouldn't it's exactly that. An art-filmmaker like Apichatpong Weerasethakul can take his time, time, time, time, and make us go cross-eyed until we think we're seeing specters with a slab of blessed Slow Cinema like Memoria, but mainstream movies don't have that luxury. And so proper Ghost Stories seem, to my eye, a little sidelined by popular culture these days -- ones that get it pretty right, like say Crimson Peak or The Turning, seem to get elbowed out of the conversation; shrugged at, at first. They take time to insinuate themselves, stick their spider-legs under our skins and cling snug to bone senses -- and by the time they're in there most people are onto the tenth next thing, never noticing. 

And so the very act of looking back, remembrance and memory, comes cooked in. Cults sprout up around these flicks down the road, and I think Last Night in Soho, a fine time, will suffer the same prolonged, eventually appreciated by some, fate. The tension of time is too baked right into it, plot-speaking -- it's the longing for past and the poison of that longing that's all swirling around in Eloise (Thomasin Mackenzie) nee Ellie's great big blinking eyes bathed in neon for the first, unto eternal, time. We first meet her swathed ankle to throat in newspapers for god's sake, those dead things where trees go to line birdcages -- later she looks even further unto history on reams of microfiche, an old-timey festishist's exposition panacea. The past ain't through with Ellie and it ain't through with us either; a glance over a shoulder turns even the best among us to table salt, sprinkled lightly.

Last Night in Soho, like the other mainstream ghost stories I just named, is admittedly too busy for its own good -- echoing the here and now there's no time for breathing, and Wright throws too much at us, just like Guillermo did as well. Costumes and sets, leagues of ghosties and double-crosses galore. But buried beneath the mountains of style and beautiful people both this and Crimson Peak, which I think would make for the perfect double-bill, are pretty straightforward stories down in their punctured spilling sad broken hearts. The past raining down on us, splitting open the skies with waves of what refuses to be forgotten, an echo of a heart beating through the walls that demands it be heard, be understood, in the present. In times where we seem incapable of standing still and listening it seems to take a barrage, an assault on the senses, and I do believe that Last Night in Soho, imperfect unwieldy, still set mine long-term to tingle. We've got a new ghost in the rafters, guys, and it looks great in sheets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The reviews for this have been brutally bad. I was excited but now I’m hesitant.