A tech worker for an Alexa-esque device hears a suspicious video recording.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Zoe Kravitz
Review by Jon Kissel
Her routine is interrupted by a particularly disturbing task. What sounds like a sexual assault comes through a random person’s Kimi, and Angela becomes obsessed with it. No one else at Amygdala wants to know anything about this, eager to dismiss her concerns with the smallest wedge of doubt. If this task can be discounted as a misunderstanding, that’s what they want. Unable to put her instincts aside, Angela weasels additional information out of tech support, and is able to trace the device back to its owner, along with access to all her Kimi recordings. Angela’s fears are confirmed, as the owner Samantha (Erika Christensen) was seeing the CEO of Amygdala (Derek DelGaudio), who had her killed when she threatened to go to the press about the lax security standards at Amygdala. All of this is captured on Samantha’s Kimi, the product of a company already spying on its users. Why wouldn’t they also be spying on their workers?
Soderbergh frequently returns to the corporate espionage well, but this is as close as he’s gotten to the paranoid thrillers of the 70’s and 80’s. A Blow Out for the 21st century, Kimi has all of that De Palma film’s competence porn and fascination with audio technology, except Angela’s doing it all with software while John Travolta had to isolate tracks with reels and editing machinery. The modern era screams for this subgenre to make a comeback, or it would if people hadn’t made the process of spying so easy for anyone who wants to listen. There’s no leap of technological imagination in Kimi: it all exists in its present state right now. Does anyone really think that their Alexa or Alexa equivalent is secure, that the company isn’t always listening for relevant keywords, or that they would put up a mere token resistance to the government? Choruses of ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ ignore the fact of an ever-changing political landscape. Alabama might have reason to be interested if the word ‘mifepristone’ gets said in someone’s house. Domestic terrorism charges were just laid on anti-police training center activists here in Atlanta. Will Amazon resist a subpoena if the government wants to know if any planning took place at a friend’s house?
The insanity of this civil rights surrender means that I’m immune to any of the outlandish stuff that happens in Kimi. Let the public be frightened of high-priced assassins if it means unplugging. Kimi embraces its 70’s roots the second Angela exits her apartment, turning into a canted-angle dystopia accentuated by her mental state. Agoraphobia combined with pandemic stress and the sheer paranoia of assassins lurking in every corner turns Kimi’s second half into the kind of raw thriller that Soderbergh occasionally deals in with films like Haywire and parts of Traffic. The specificity and precision of spycraft is right in his wheelhouse, and the various distraction and surveillance tactics of the assassins is the right mix of competence and incompetence, like they know exactly what they’re doing but can’t plan for random events. Would these expensive professionals be outwitted by a random tech worker? I couldn’t be bothered with realism questions like that when I’m so delighted by righteous nail gun fury.
Rarely the lead, Zoe Kravitz’s career has played out as the third or fourth most interesting character onscreen. A slim margin would call her the best thing about The Batman, and an even smaller number would single her out in Big Little Lies or Fury Road. Kimi is her most prominent lead role to date, occupying the screen for nearly all of the film’s screentime. She’s tremendously watchable in the role, even in the scenes of her moving purposefully through her loft from the kitchen to the office. Her body language is exact in spite of the disorder of her brain, and when she finally goes outside, the physicality of her performance shines through Soderbergh’s camera wizardry. She’s hunched and self-conscious, in total control of her movement so as to make this period outside of her loft as short as possible. The film is short and therefore has its own momentum, but Kravitz ensures that despite it taking place primarily in a single location, it’s never boring or repetitive.
Kimi is the second film of the famously prolific Soderbergh to be filmed during the pandemic, but the only one to address it head-on. It’s fitting that the director of Contagion wouldn’t shy away from Covid, and while there’s little sentiment for a Covid film, Kimi contains the world-building and detail that will both put this film directly in its time and serve as a time capsule for future generations. The way that the apartment complex becomes friendly but not friends is exactly right, as is the festering mental illness that’s being incompletely addressed by the same video technology that everyone got tired of. The movies of the New Hollywood era were notable partly because they were so plugged into their era, both the geography of it and the psychological sentiment in the air. Kimi is a descendant of these films not only in how it envisions a lawless layer of society for the rich and powerful, but in how it crystallizes the period of its creation. B+