Last Night in Soho's Krysty Wilson-Cairns on tackling tough themes in horror: "Toxic masculinity really frightens me"
The 1917 screenwriter spoke exclusively to RadioTimes.com about working with Edgar Wright on his new horror film.
Before Edgar Wright's new film Last Night in Soho premiered at the Venice Film Festival last month, the director wrote a letter asking audiences not to reveal anything about the story's twists and turns. The movie's central character Eloise goes on a journey, Wright wrote, and he would like viewers to go on that journey with her without knowing anything about where it might take them.
One thing that should be known in advance, however, is that the film deals with some very delicate subject matter – including abuse inflicted on women. Some early reviews have questioned whether this theme is dealt with appropriately in the film, and whether Wright is the right person to tackle the issue, but in an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com, co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns takes a different view.
Asked if anything about the film's premise made her a little tentative, she responds, "I mean, I think knowing Edgar and being friends with Edgar and knowing... like the team that he works with is majority female, the two producers, in fact three of his producers are women.
"He's a very empathetic, and very understanding person," she continues. "He's not someone who I really had to explain the nuance of the difficulties that sometimes women face to, because he understood it and had watched and often intervened in many kind of ways. And I think he didn't need me for help with that."
Despite not having too many reservations on that front, Wilson-Cairns emphasises that both she and Wright felt "a real responsibility" when telling the story, and says that their research into the time period depicted in the film only made them more determined to get it right.
"Ultimately, we had so much research that confirmed our worst fears about what that decade was like and what Soho was like then," she says. "And all these stories that aren't told, and will never be told, I think it's really important as a writer to try and create, not take someone's life and put it on screen, but to take these experiences and amalgamate them in a character that feels true."
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And she adds that the subject matter was in fact a perfect fit for the horror genre – which she believes is able to tackle tough themes in a more accessible way than other genres.
"I think it's really important with horror to write something that really frightens you," she says. "And the way women are treated, and toxic masculinity, really frightens me. And I think it really frightens all the women out there as well.
"And I think these genre films, sometimes people wouldn't go and see a documentary or a drama about this subject, but this genre can be a Trojan horse, because you know you're going to be entertained but it might just open your eyes to another experience."
Wright has always been a very cine-literate director – Wilson-Cairns describes him as "the biggest film nerd I've ever met" – and so it's no surprise that the new film is stuffed with references to classic horror flicks. Wright himself has picked out Roman Polanski's Repulsion and Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now as two major influences, and Wilson-Cairns says that he gave her lots of viewing homework during the writing process.
"When you start to work with him he just sends you a stack of DVDs about as tall as you are," she laughs. "I think the stack he sent me was literally five foot tall, in my living room, and he was like, 'Can you watch all these by the end of the week', and I was like, 'Of course I can't – I'm only one human!'"
But she says that while those films– which included several Italian Giallos – were useful in terms of informing the tone and aesthetics of the movie, they were less helpful when it came to building the characters and story themselves.
"For characters and story and world building, there wasn't kind of a lot out there, especially that really featured women in a shall we say positive light," she says. "I mean, a lot of the films that were made in the '60s were very moralistic, and quite kind of like 'shame on you, young woman for having a dream'. And so there wasn't a lot to necessarily use to build on. But there was so much to give colour."
And she adds that some of the most useful clips she watched came from a rather different source. "The thing that I think really clicked the most for me was we used to watch these Pathé newsreels of Soho in the '60s," she explains. "You know, with a car, just driving around, no dialogue, no sound. And just seeing that world and also seeing how much it was similar, like, how much had not changed in the buildings and everything like that.
"And I suppose I had always been infatuated with the past and in Soho it's impossible to not feel it in every kind of nook and cranny. But watching those ones just made everything so much more present to me, so much more alive. I liked tumbling down the rabbit hole of that, and I really related to Eloise in that sense."
The film opens on Friday 29th October – just in time for Halloween – and Wilson-Cairns says that if audiences can take one thing away from the experience it's that romanticising the past rarely leads to positive outcomes.
"In the last decade, nostalgia has been weaponised against us politically, often to say 'Oh don't you remember the good old days, won't we go back there?'," she says. "And you know, as a woman, the good old days weren't all that good! And a lot of the problems that we still face today, we faced back then 10 times worse.
"And so I was never one to... listen, I'd love to visit the '60s, but I'd snap right back. I'd come right back to the present day, I would never want to stay there and remain there. I think nostalgia is actually quite dangerous, and I think on a personal level, looking backwards for the answers is never good. I think you need to look back for the lessons. And so the whole film is essentially about that."
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