A film review by Craig J. Koban February 16, 2022

KIMI jjj
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MAX ORIGINAL MOVIE

2022, R, 104 mins.

ZoŽ Kravitz as Angela Childs  /  Rita Wilson as Natalie Chowdhury  /  India de Beaufort as Sharon  /  Byron Bowers as Terry Hughes  /  Jaime Camil as Antonia Rivas  /  Derek DelGaudio as Bradley Hassling   /  Emily Kuroda as Dr. Burns

Directed by Steven Soderbergh  /  Written by David Koepp
 

 

ORIGINAL FILM

Remember when director Steven Soderbergh officially retired from filmmaking back in 2013, citing that "movies don't matter anymore"? 

Ha.  Good times, eh? 

All kidding  aside, his post-retirement years (okay, maybe I'm not done with sarcasm) have shown the acclaimed director to be in a mini-creative renaissance of sorts, with work as far ranging as the caper flick LOGAN LUCKY to the iPhone shot psychological thriller UNSANE (yes, he has to work on titles a bit) to the sports focused HIGH FLYING BIRD to last year's period crime drama NO SUDDEN MOVE.  His latest might his best of the last several years in the HBO MAX (Crave TV in Canada) released KIMI, which is a robustly confident and intense tech thriller that plays like an intriguing hybrid of Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW and De Palma's BLOW OUT, but with a highly timely pandemic era spin.  Featuring a tour de force, career high performance by the increasingly versatile Zoe Kravitz and some novel methods utilized to terrorize the audience, KIMI unequivocally shows that the wily old veteran in Soderbergh still has many tricks up his sleeves when it comes to taking genres and breathing new life into them. 

In the early stages of KIMI it definitely seems like it's going to be a minimalist, one setting kind of thriller.  Set during our current COVID-19 pandemic in Seattle, we're quirkily introduced to a deeply agoraphobic tech worker named Angela (Kravitz), who's employed by the massive Amygdala Corporation, whose recent product in "KIMI" is poised to be the next defining game changer when it comes to home tech.  Akin to Siri or Alexa, KIMI is essentially a virtual assistant, but with vastly more far ranging abilities that requires the tech know-how of human operators like Angela to keep the whole system up and running smoothly.  She's afforded the option of working completely at home, which proves invaluable to her seeing as (a) she's been burdened with mental health issues because of a past trauma and (b) the pandemic has further exacerbated her mental health, leading to her developing a crippling fear of venturing back into the outside world. 

During one routine work day at home, Angela discovers that something is off about one user's recording on KIMI.  Deciding that this is worth investigating, she uses her computer abilities to isolate and separate sounds from one another on the recording and discovers to her horror that a woman in great distress can be heard screaming for her life and, worse yet, appears to have been killed.  Deeply disturbed by what she has heard, Angela reaches out to various outside sources and acquaintances for help in determining the origin location of the recording and the identity of the person directly affected. This, predictably enough, adds considerable stress to her already self-imposed, isolationist life, and no amount of pills to numb her psychological pains seem to be of any assistance.  Realizing that that there is no other options available to her, she opts to mask up and venture outside for the first times in ages.  Dealing with the near paralyzing ordeal of leaving her home is a tall order for poor Angela, but she soon discovers that mysterious and shadowy forces are hot on her trail and appear to want to silence her for good about her ghastly discovery.   

 

 

One thing that Soderbergh does so mercilessly well in KIMI is in how he explores the world within the larger world of Angela's loft apartment life.  He manages to find innovative ways to visualize this woman's agoraphobia and all of her feverous anxiety when it comes to all things pandemic related.  Although she is competent and committed to her work and seems gifted at it, Angela's home existence becomes one of painful routine: She methodically scrubs her hands, face and body down daily with frantic showers and uses hand sanitizer to the point of hitting the higher extremes of OCD.  KIMI really becomes a visual showcase, though, when this poor soul has to leave the sealed off confines of her home, and Soderbergh has a field day with distorting his lens and getting trippy with editing and sound design to evoke the horror show levels of distress that this woman is not journeyed into.  You can really gain and immediate sense of how this woman feels suffocated by everything she comes in contact with, whether it be people just walking by her or objects she has to use.  Seemingly ordinary tasks for Angela become super human endurance tests of fortitude for her. 

Of course, KIMI is partially an obvious commentary about lockdowns, isolation, and how the pandemic has fuelled mental unease in the world's population, not to mention that it also dabbles into the dangerous nature of privacy loss in our current technological world (this is the kind of movie that will not make you want to rush out and purchase a virtual assistant device).  I've neglected to mention that the script here is by David Koepp, who's no stranger to bone chilling thrillers, having written and directed STIR OF ECHOES, SECRET WINDOW, PREMIUM RUSH and, most recently, 2020's YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (he also penned a handful of films for Steven Spielberg).  KIMI could have easily been set during any non-COVID time period (REAR WINDOW themed stories have done so before), but framing the story within the pandemic is noteworthy and works well in context and within the character dynamics here.  Jimmy Stewart was wheelchair bound because of a broken leg, so trekking outside to catch a killer was an impossibility.  For Angela, though, she's physically fine, but her extreme agoraphobia (fuelled by pandemic unease and fear) makes the mental process of going out in search of a killer and answers to be an even greater Herculean past.  It's not just scary that people are after her and want her dead, but that she's already terrified just being out in public.  Hitchcock would have been mightily proud of this story arc and the way it teases and torments the audience in novel ways. 

Leading the charge is Kravitz (soon to be appearing as Catwoman in Matt Reeves THE BATMAN), and her performance here is a real juggling act of having to relay her character's multiple gripping phobias as well as highlighting her as a determined go-getter that's willing to right a very awful wrong.  I also admired how this film and Kravitz  portrayed the nuances of the agoraphobia afflicted.  Angela is a sick woman, yes, but she's fairly functional at home and while working.  She's not shown as some loose cannon weirdo that has gone off the deep end of mental illness.  Yet, she definitely becomes troubled by the new haunting discovery she makes from that KIMI recording, which both springs her into action while simultaneously dosing fuel on top of the fire of her condition.  Kravitz is utterly convincing in this part and carries nearly every scene in the film.  A lesser committed actress would have sunk the whole endeavor, but Kravitz's level headed acting approach and Soderbergh's calculating directorial hand elevates the material away from it becoming cheaply sensationalistic or shamelessly mining from out current worldwide woes.  KIMI is one of the very few pandemic centered films that I've seen where COVID seems organically integrated into the story. 

This film is also swiftly efficient as well: At around 90 minutes, Soderbergh is shrewd make his thriller never outstay its welcome (incidentally, he has edited his own film under the pseudonym Mary Ann Bernard, but regardless of his name being omitted from the official credits here, KIMI is super tight and effectively paced affair).  I don't think, though, that the final moments work as well as the entire build-up towards it (Soderbergh struggles a tad with concluding everything here), and for those expecting an action heavy tech-noir thriller might be setting themselves up for letdown.  KIMI is more understated and low key as a character focused thriller as opposed to a being a viscerally potent, mayhem infused one.  I found it to be deeply unsettling thriller to sit through, especially for how it comments on not only pandemic strife and how it affects people, but also for how modern online tracking has become so alarmingly intrusive in daily life (are we ever truly living a private existence anymore?).  As an intoxicating nail-biter with a fresh spin on old troupes, KIMI shows Soderbergh in routinely fine form.  

Good thing he never really retired, eh? 

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