Film Review – Kimi
In 2013, director Steven Soderbergh announced that he would be taking a leave from filmmaking. Since then, he’s arguably been more prolific than ever, heading numerous movie, TV, and off-Broadway projects. Apparently, his short-lived hiatus only worked to spark his creativity. He’s one of the few filmmakers that can operate a big studio production or within the restrictions of a small budget affair and rarely miss a beat. His latest, Kimi (2022), is a taught little thriller set amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the narrative loses steam during the latter stages, the strength of the central performance makes this a compelling watch.
That performance is delivered by Zoë Kravitz. She plays Angela, a tech worker living in Seattle. Angela is agoraphobic – frightened to step foot out of her own apartment. The onset of the pandemic has only made her feel less at ease, unwilling to venture out in fear of putting her life (and others) in danger. She works from home, has food delivered to her, communicates with her mom through video calls, and spends her free time looking out of the window. Angela’s anxieties have crippled her to the point that when her neighbor Terry (Bryon Bowers) stops by for their late-night trysts, she immediately cleans her sheets afterwards – sometimes before he has a chance to get his clothes back on. The only real form of companionship Angela has is with Kimi, a voice-activated assistant similar to the likes of SIRI or Alexa.
Soderbergh’s direction (along with David Koepp’s writing) demonstrate Angela’s apprehension in the early scenes. The camerawork and editing (also by Soderbergh) establish Angela’s apartment as a self-made prison. It is unclear whether she is aware of the Covid-19 vaccines, but the pandemic plays a major role in Angela’s behavior. She can get herself ready to go out and put on a mask but panics the moment she tries to unlock her front door. We learn that she suffered some personal trauma in her past, which only compounds her weakened state. Noise coming from upstairs construction feels like the universe piling on our dear protagonist.
Angela works as a Kimi programmer, which requires having to listen to recorded voice commands from unknowing customers. One day, she overhears a disturbing recording. Using computer and audio equipment, she cleans up the file to discover what sounds like an assault taking place. When her attempts to notify authorities fall on deaf ears, Angela makes it her personal mission to catch those responsible. Of course, this proves to be difficult, given the fact that Angela barely has enough fortitude to step outside without suffering a panic attack. How does one solve a mystery from the comfort and safety of their couch?
That’s a question Soderbergh and the rest of the production have trouble answering. While the first half – dealing with Angela’s growing sense of fear and paranoia – work exceptionally well, it’s the second half that starts to waver. The one-person character study fades as themes of corporate conspiracy, capitalism, and abuse of power are introduced. The smooth, graceful cinematography inside of Angela’s home switches into a frenetic, handheld style as soon as we venture out into the city. This change helps amplify Angela’s mental state, but the sequences are not nearly as convincing. We start seeing just how small Soderbergh’s canvass is once the larger world is brought into play. Angela’s attempts to notify the right people doesn’t have the necessary tension. A confrontation between Angela and her boss (Rita Wilson) comes off as flat and stilted. By the time we enter the realm of an action thriller, things have fallen off the rails.
That’s not to suggest Soderbergh doesn’t have something important to say here, because he does. This is especially true regarding victims of assault. How often have we encountered stories of victims trying to get themselves heard only to be ignored, brushed off, or even blamed for the crime? That is something Angela faces. But the way events unfold leading up to the climax become less and less believable. The most engaging sequences revolve around Angela’s discovery of the recording and her inclinations that something might be wrong. One of the most interesting things to watch are people accomplishing difficult tasks and making it look effortless. Angela does this proficiently. Seeing her use her tech skills to decipher the message will undoubtably bring up comparisons to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) and to a larger degree, Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981). The setting of a confined apartment and sense of voyeurism will bring up parallels with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). These are some big-time connections. Unfortunately, the final result doesn’t match up to its initial promise.
Kimi is not a bad movie, and this is mostly to do with Kravitz’s stellar, tightrope performance. She navigates Angela’s journey with equal amounts of vulnerability and conviction. It’s what makes the first half engaging – we see a character try to overcome their own limitations in hopes of solving an ambiguous riddle. Once the ambiguity is gone, the energy starts to dwindle. This is a fine film, but I couldn’t help feeling that it missed the opportunity to be better than that.