by John Larkin
Edgar Wright's new surreal genre bending thriller pulls us in right away, opening with a long take of young Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) dancing through her bedroom to "A World Without Love" by Peter And Gordon. Immediately I was charmed by her youthful grace and her love for 60's culture. Eloise carries a light in her eye that will soon be dimmed by a slew of nasty real world encounters. She's accepted into a prestigious fashion school where she's greeted by a nightmarish bullying roommate who drives Eloise into finding another place to live. The new place is a creepy bedroom in an old home owned by an elderly woman (Dianna Rigg in her final film role). When Eloise begins to fall asleep at night she gets transported through her dreams to the swingin 60's and begins to live vicariously through a young singer named Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy). We soon learn that the dreams are in fact real occurrences from the past and as the events grow darker Eloise becomes more and more unhinged.
There's a brief nod to Eloise's "gifts" by her Grandmother earlier in the film but the rules of what exactly her gifts entail are never made clear and only seem to be established so Eloise can see ghost like visages and experience living in the past when the film suits it. There's also a mention early on about Eloise's mother committing suicide and how Eloise is pursuing fashion not only for herself but to honor the legacy of her mother.
The film is strongest when Eloise is in Anya Taylor-Joy's shoe's, living out the moments as they turn from rapturous joy to horrific terror. Their bond in dream world is an intriguing mystery that holds us in suspense for most of the film, but Wright misses the chance to tie things up in any meaningful way, instead opting for a couple of twist shocks in the third act that don't align with the character threads that had been established with Eloise from the film's start. Her mother's suicide and her connection with her never plays a role in the any of the proceedings and we are instead given a cheap nod to it at the end that feels forced and holds no weight at all or connection to the twists. What was setup as a story about a daughter exceeding the accomplishments of a mother she never knew and coming of age against the harsh reality of life beyond the family home instead just becomes an over the top and borderline silly paranormal murder mystery.
Despite my disappointment with where the story took us, Wright pulls off enough fun stuff in the first two acts to make the film worth watching. It may ultimately be a style over substance situation but the style is a lot of fun to behold and there's a great eclectic soundtrack throughout.