Movie Review: With ‘Kimi,’ Soderbergh uses the pandemic to tell a story about paranoia with technological privacy
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: David Koepp
Stars: Zoë Kravitz, Rita Wilson
Synopsis: An agoraphobic Seattle tech worker uncovers evidence of a crime.
Although there have been numerous rumors and threats of retirement, Steven Soderbergh, aka one of the hardest working directors in Hollywood, keeps delivering one interesting work after the other while still examining different filmmaking styles. He also stated in 2018 that he wanted to shoot films only on iPhones and was done with directing studio movies. Nonetheless, we are all here for whatever he decides to do (except if it involves the Oscars; we don’t want a repeat of the 2021 awards). During these pandemic years, Soderbergh has been keeping himself busy by doing some straight-to-HBO MAX movies, including Let Them All Talk and No Sudden Move. The quickly working auteur is now back with Kimi, a Zoe Kravitz-led thriller that runs with the pandemic backdrop. And although I’m a bit tired of films set during this reality that everybody would like to escape from, its approach to paranoia and technological privacy keeps it entertaining and thrilling.
Set in Seattle, the movie follows an agoraphobic (a type of anxiety disorder in which a person fears and avoids places and situations that make them feel trapped or panicked) tech worker Angela Childs (Kravitz), who works from her home office for the Amygdala Corporation (named after the part of the brain that helps process memories and fear). During one of her data stream runs, where she oversees and fixes order errors on the KIMI apparatus (a replacement for Alexa), Angela discovers evidence of a violent crime. She seeks help from some of her friends and networking accomplices to get access to the whole voice files/commandments. However, when she tries to report her findings to the head of the company, Natalie Chowdhury (Rita Wilson), Childs is met with resistance and the red tape of bureaucracy. The only way to find the truth is by facing her greatest fear, venturing out of her apartment, and wandering through the city streets.
With Kimi, Soderbergh wants to do his stripped-down version of Hitchcock’s masterpiece Rear Window, as well as a film that emulates some of Brian de Palma’s work (Blow Out and Body Double), while adding a bit of a Black Mirror-esque narrative about privacy within technology. It may seem that there isn’t much of a purpose, only for it to be a modernized copy of the mentioned flicks, but Soderbergh knows how to keep viewers engaged with his directorial style and MO. His latest has many similarities with his 2018 shot-on-iPhone flick, Unsane. Not only do both have a made-on-the-fly approach and technical limitations (Unsane was shot on an iPhone, while this one had pandemic setbacks), but their narratives have psychological thriller underpinnings centered around female leads. Both make great use of their tight and claustrophobic settings, one way or another; in Kimi, Soderbergh chose different methods to tackle the inside and outside world of the lead character, which intertwines with her mental state as the story progresses.
Angela’s apartment uses many forms of shadows and bright lights; the only brightly lit segments are her home office and bedroom, while the other parts of the house are more darkened. And in terms of the camera style, it appears to be more open and breathable since Angela feels safer staying in her apartment rather than going outside. In the first act, each time she sticks the key into the door as an attempt to go outside, a lengthy and pulverizing ring is heard. This emulates the tension of what may come for her once she ventures outside and faces her biggest fear. On the other side, the outside world is much more confined, and the camera is way up in your face. The handheld shots (that on occasions sway from left to right yet remain close to Angela) cause a feeling of disorientation and bewilderment, helping the audience get into her headspace; Soderbergh’s intent of shooting it like a horror movie is evident. In addition, Soderbergh raises the sounds, so you can hear each step, conversation, and other types of things louder as the thrills and stakes increase.
As enjoyable as this Blow Out-meets-Black Mirror-esque thriller is, it does have some drawbacks relating to the screenplay from the frequent Steven Spielberg collaborator, David Koepp (Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), and its final act. Koepp’s script is relatively weak when it comes to dealing with the more challenging topics that the film talks about (agoraphobia, sexual abuse, homelessness, and big tech concealments), even if it is at the minimum. Although that might help elevate the mystery at play, it doesn’t do anything with those themes, and it is never applied to the characters involved. Regarding the last act, the pacing and direction seem too careless and uncoordinated. It is well packed together, with its 89-minute runtime, but a couple of minutes could have been added to develop the finale better as it currently appears rushed. Nevertheless, these issues aren’t total anchoring flaws that ruin the entire movie because there is still a lot to enjoy: the Soderberghian aesthetics, Kravitz’s punky performance, and its quick-and-easy runtime. Even though this may not be the best out of his most recent work, I think that title belongs to No Sudden Move, it has enough strong elements to remain an appealing watch. “KIMI… play “Sabotage”!”