An agoraphobic Seattle tech worker uncovers evidence of a crime.
I’m still not used to a world where the latest Steven Soderbergh film just drops on HBO Max (Sky Cinema in the UK), with little-to-no fanfare or widespread promotion, but the prolific director keeps releasing interesting movies this way. And Kimi, his latest straight-to-streaming release, is easily my favourite.
Kimi centres on Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz), who works from home as a “voice stream interpreter” monitoring the recorded streams from the titular ‘Kimi’ device; a smart speaker similar to Alexa or Siri, made by the tech corporation Amygdala. These interpreters are what differentiates Kimi from similar real-world products, as they’re monitored by real human being instead of a computer algorithm.
Childs has serious anxiety and agoraphobia, which the coronavirus pandemic has seemingly made worse. She struggles to leave her spacious apartment on a daily basis, and in the COVID-affected modern world, she’s rarely had to. Everything she needs to do can be accomplished in her precisely set up home office. The only contact she has with anyone outside of a screen is with her concerned neighbour and lover Terry Hughes (Byron Bowers).
So yes, the film acknowledges the existence of the now two-year-old pandemic, but unlike other movies which have tried to incorporate COVID-19 into their narratives, Kimi manages to make it an integral part of the story without feeling unearned or coming off as groan-worthy. The pandemic blends seamlessly into the story. Rather than taking the audience out of it, it fits in perfectly with the movie’s themes of isolation and paranoia.
Speaking of isolation and paranoia, Kimi owes a great debt to conspiracy thrillers of the past. It’s part Blow Out (1981), Rear Window (1954), and The Conversation (1974), with a helping of Soderbergh and his fascinations with people’s work processes in front of a camera, and innovative filmmaking techniques behind it. The aforementioned inspirations are some of the greatest films ever made, and Kimi doesn’t reach those heights, but there’s a reason this type of story can soar when given the right treatment from the creative team.
The movie, which breezes by at a tight 89-minutes, shifts into top gear when Childs overhears what sounds like an attack, or even possibly a murder, on one of the recording streams that was assigned to her, recalling both Blow Out and The Conversation’s paranoia plots. And like Jimmy Stewart’s L.B Jefferies in Rear Window, she’s bound to her apartment—which has a great view of her neighbours.
Like Soderbergh’s last film, the excellent crime outing No Sudden Move (2021), Kimi has twists and turns and expertly placed, biting social commentary. I won’t spoil the plot, but just know that everything is introduced for a specific reason, and it all comes back to play a part in a thrilling final act.
The cast of characters is full of the usual suspects played by an eclectic group of actors: Amygdala’s sketchy CEO Bradley Hasling (magician Derek DelGaudio), peeping neighbour Kevin (Devin Ratray), two goons credited as ‘Glasses Thug’ (Jacob Vargas) and ‘Tall Thug’ (Charles Halford), a hacker named Darius (Alex Dobrenko), and many more. Rita Wilson makes a now-rare screen appearance as an executive at Amygdala named Dr Natalie Chowdhury, and Traffic (2000) star Erika Christensen reunites with Soderbergh, playing the victim overheard in the recording. But it’s Kravitz who grounds the movie with a believable, sympathetic, and engaging performance.
The final act, which finds Childs traversing through an impressively used Seattle setting back to her apartment where the situation gets truly dicey, ties all of the movie’s themes, characters, and details together with an exciting action set piece involving nail guns, Die Hard (1988)-style vent-crawling, and an all-important flash drive. In typical Soderbergh fashion, the situation is blocked out to where you understand the physical geography of the scene at all times.
Following a run in which he directed 24 films in 18 years from 1995 through 2013, Soderbergh took what was, for him at least, an extended break until 2017. After his ‘semi-retirement’, he’s once again been on a tear, rattling off seven movies in the last six years: Logan Lucky (2017), Unsane (2018), High Flying Bird (2019), The Laundromat (2019), Let Them All Talk (2020), No Sudden Move, and now Kimi.
Most of these movies have debuted online rather than cinemas, and almost all of them have received a positive, if muted, reception before eventually being reevaluated as deeper than previously thought. I believe the straight-to-streaming debuts have something to do with that, as does Soderbergh’s tendency to subvert expectations with both his subject matter and his filmmaking approach. All of those movies are really good. Soderbergh rarely makes outright bad movies. But Kimi is the most traditionally satisfying of them all. There will be an audience for this movie on streaming. Conspiracy thrillers that echo society’s modern problems have always struck a chord with audiences, and Kimi fits right in with the best of them.
USA | 2022 | 89 MINUTES | 2.00:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
director: Steven Soderbergh.
writer: David Koepp.
starring: Zoë Kravitz, Betsy Brantley (voice), Rita Wilson, India de Beaufort, Emily Kuroda, Byron Bowers, Jaime Camil, Jacob Vargas & Derek DelGaudio.