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. BurnsDirected by Steven Soderbergh / Written by David Koepp
director Steven Soderbergh officially retired from filmmaking back in
2013, citing that "movies don't matter anymore"?
Good times, eh?
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.
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.
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.