Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Zoë Kravitz, Byron Bowers, Devin Ratray
Pandemic or not, the work of Steven Soderbergh continues apace, whether his efforts achieve high profile distribution or not. Few even know that he put out a slick little caper flick starring Benecio del Toro and Don Cheadle last year. Where other auteurs lament or remain cautious of streaming as a delivery service, Soderbergh’s embrace is in-keeping with his impatiently inquisitive mind. He was among the first there experimenting with digital, from early ’00s offerings like Full Frontal to iPhone flick Unsane.
Kimi feels in-keeping with this avenue of interest; a small and simply-shot micro-thriller that squints into the evolving world of in-home listening devices and perpetual, candid surveillance. As usual, Soderbergh’s concerns are pressingly contemporary. ‘Kimi’ is not unlike Siri or Alexa, albeit here it’s parent company have meat and blood humans mining the data, listening to the playbacks, honing the algorithms.
One among these is Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz), an agoraphobe who has quite benefitted from the social limitations of lockdown and COVID; less pressured to leave her studio apartment, and toying with a romantic connection with her neighbour across the way, Terry (Byron Bowers). Such fixations work both ways however, and she has caught the attention of another nearby resident, the suspicious-seeming Kevin (Devin Ratray). One night, while listening back to her streams, Angela discovers what sounds like a murder or assault masked beneath the rhythms of Massive Attack’s “Inertia Creeps”. Cue a Rear Window / Blow Out variant in which Angela’s obsessive nature goes into overdrive – is she imagining things? As she cranes to listen closer, one wonders, who’s watching? And who’s listening back?
“Trust me I know bad; I used to moderate for Facebook” Angela drolly counters as her claims are dismissed by colleagues at corporate, yet she persists. Using an all-too-easy hack provided by a fellow company drone, Angela gains access to recorded footage that both validates her suspicions and triggers her own traumatic responses.
The relative simplicity and control of Soderbegh’s camerawork inside the studio apartment in the first half contrasts effectively with the chaotic handheld and noisy sound design we are bombarded with when Angela is forced out into the unpredictable, volatile world. Effectively conveying a sense of overwhelming dissonance, Kimi becomes itchy to watch. Kravitz channels some of the same paranoiac instincts that served her well throughout both runs of Big Little Lies. Angela’s sensitivity further heightens the invasiveness of the modern world’s security measures. Air-blasted and retina-scanned, Kravitz plays her with a sense of internalised pressure. In collaboration with Soderbergh and his crew, much is generated from little; certainly enough to propel this David Koepp scripted thriller through it’s slim 90 minutes.
While keenly and clearly designed to make us question the levels of surveillance and data monitoring we casually allow into our everyday lives, Kimi also pries into other authoritarian misgivings. Angela proves quite reasonably fretful of who she shares her discovery with, chiefly thanks to a past experience which has tarnished her faith in the usefulness of the police. With slogans like ACAB visible both online and in our communal worlds everyday, Kimi also taps into this pressing – and growing – distrust of those we are told to depend on. Particularly for women. Particularly for women of colour. The prejudices Angela is forced to navigate exist both within and without.
Kimi slots in comfortably with Soderbergh’s quick turn-over ‘small’ pictures. Nimble like a High Flying Bird or Unsane. Sized accordingly, there’s a sense of glass ceiling in not just it’s capabilities but also it’s own ambitions. But even if it doesn’t aspire to greatness, it showcases Soderbergh in fine and immediate form. Witness particularly the take-no-prisoners DIY thrills of it’s home invasion finale, in which Angela weaponises Kimi to her own advantage.
Nothing here suggests Soderbergh’s about to slow down anytime soon. I for one am happy to accept occasional bombs like The Laundromat if it means we also get snappy little salvos like this one. And there’s no shortage of modern ills to get us worked up over.