film review: kimi
Zoë Kravitz in Kimi (2022)
It comes at no surprise that the new film from one of the most consistently great directors in the industry is excellent. Given Steven Soderbergh’s track record and the sense of expectation when approaching his work, he still manages to bring an element of surprise to his films. His latest, a techno thriller called Kimi, is no exception. The experience of watching Kimi is like being caught in a nightmarish haze. Cliff Martinez’s gorgeous, dreamy score harkens back to Hitchcockian sounds, and heightens suspense. Zoë Kravitz stars as protagonist Angela Childs, an agoraphobic voice stream interpreter for a big tech company. Angela becomes unwittingly entangled in a series of unfortunate events. The real-life pandemic lingers in the background, just enough to recognize but works its way into David Koepp’s screenplay on such an organic level. Particularly relatable to the way many people are experiencing the COVID pandemic today, whether it be working remotely, or finding it difficult to rejoin the outside world. Beyond that, the increased feelings of isolation, frustration, and paranoia living in a forever-changed world. Kimi tackles so many subjects in delicately drawn ways, amplified through actions instead of overtly explained monologues. The plot sounds bare bones on paper; while listening to a stream picked up by a Kimi device (think Amazon Alexa), Angela (played by Kravitz) discovers evidence of a crime. She reports to the powers in charge and finds herself tangled in a much bigger spiderweb than initially thought. Taking justice into her own hands, she must leave her apartment to piece a dangerous puzzle. Kimi is an intriguing paranoia thriller for the digital ages, featuring a wonderful performance by Zoë Kravitz.
Leave it to Soderbergh to take a story that’s been done plenty before - expertly in the case of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, for instance - and still make the film flow with a fresh signature voice. The same can be said for Cliff Martinez’s score, which has hints of influence from composers such as Bernard Herrmann, but exists as its own unique and varied accomplishment. The film radiates this energy all around, with a compelling performance by Zoë Kravitz leading the way. From the writing, to the screen presence and precision Kravitz brings to this character, Angela Childs is a multi-layered role, perfect for a showcase of range. It’s always a treat to watch how the smallest of details can say so much about a character, and Kravitz relishes in such moments. From the scenes of Angela bracing herself to open her apartment door, to the impromptu conversations she shares with her mother. To see her agoraphobia portrayed in a thoughtful way, not as a big plot point but as something she has grown to live with, is a refreshing direction Soderbergh takes. Angela is an interesting protagonist and makes the story all the more intriguing to watch. Soderbergh first keeps the film at home base. A slow-build introduces Angela in her element, complete with an extensive WFH tech setup allowing her to stream and fix communication errors between Kimi and its users. Her day-to-day routine is suddenly turned upside down, when she overhears a violent crime on one of the recordings. A fight for justice brings Angela outside her home in the middle of a pandemic, to the office of tech boss Natalie Chowdhury (Rita Wilson). Chowdhury’s blatant dismissal of Angela’s concerns sparks a bigger conversation, and it’s clear Angela isn’t the only one listening.
In addition to being an engaging starring vehicle for Kravitz, Kimi is a great showcase of Soderbergh’s knack for being ahead of the curve when it comes to exploring certain subject material. The research he conducted when preparing for his 2011 film Contagion, a box office hit at the time which then became one of the most watched films of 2020, suggested an outbreak was imminent. On a whole other thread, the increase in remote employment and education during the pandemic has made it scarily easy for companies and schools to not only monitor work, but also control access. The virtual assistant device in Kimi shows the dangers surveillance technology poses on the privacy and safety of its users. Plus, the potential horrors if this information gets into the wrong hands. Having this possibility at the back of Angela’s mind brings a lot of tensity to the situation she’s in, especially in the second half when she takes justice into her own hands to find the pieces of a conspiracy puzzle.
Soderbergh excels at making Kimi feel fresh and exciting even with frequent nods to other films that have a clear influence. One of which is a fun throwback to the 90s classic Home Alone, given the casting of Devin Ratray (a.k.a. “Buzz”) in a supporting role named Kevin. The film plays on the subject of surveillance with the physicality of this character. He lives in the building across from Angela’s and appears to be watching her alone through his window from time to time, the intentions of which are revealed later. Home is supposed to be a place of protection and safety, but can also be one of fear when violated. Then there’s the added layer of COVID, the paranoia that has emerged with lockdowns, and the devastating effects on mental health. Rather than making this COVID-set film directly about the pandemic, Soderbergh zeroes in on the narratives happening in spite of it, because of it, along with it. The way Angela has grown to adapt at home, for instance, is an intriguing thread to follow. As is the potentiality of a relationship between her and Terry (Byron Bowers), a neighbor across the street with whom she tries to follow through with an outdoor date on more than one occasion.
Kimi is a taut techno thriller and Soderbergh’s best film in years, not exactly a knock against him given the decades-long consistency of his work. With a compact runtime, a brilliant score, and clever camera angles, Kimi makes smart moves in grabbing the viewer’s attention and maintaining it. Having a skilled performer at the center, Zoë Kravitz in a career-high performance as Angela Childs, keeps the journey of Kimi an engaging one. She carries the story on her shoulders and draws you in with an instant charisma, while precisely peeling back the layers of her character, each one more revealing than the last. A variety of interesting subjects are at play here, all of which are very much rooted in reality and the ever-present dangers of living in an increasingly advanced digital age. If you're not already side-eyeing your Amazon Alexa...
Kimi is now streaming on Crave Canada and HBO Max.