Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Distributed by: HBO Max
Written by Taylor Baker
Zoë Kravitz stars as Angela Childs in Steven Soderbergh’s latest pulpy mashup of “The Conversation”, “Rear Window”, and screenwriter David Koepp’s own previous work “Panic Room”. You might be most surprised to learn that “Kimi” isn’t the name of any character you’ll find in the film, but rather an Alexa-Google Nest type of listening device. This means you can enjoy watching it without having to fret about ripping out the power cord on your devices like you would if the name of the film were “Alexa” and it was constantly placing commands for an hour and a half.
“Kimi” starts slowly building up the agoraphobic monotony of Angela’s day-to-day life as a tech worker. She serves as a data stream analyst for Amygdala, the manufacturer of Kimi which coincidentally is about to launch its IPO. After watching Zoë rock out to Billie Eilish’s Oxytocin on a stationary bike, take some pills, and use lots of hand sanitizer, we get a feel for our character, and the primary setting of the film. Her apartment. A 4th story brick spacious apartment with folding windows. After inviting her neighbor Terry Hughes (Byron Bowers) over for some lovemaking, Angela shoos him out the door and gets back to work. This concoction of sequences constructs both Angela’s limitations and strengths in quick elaborate lifelike situations, one of the many things Soderbergh is particularly adept at.
The first audio stream she listens to after giving Terry the boot has sounds of a woman being attacked buried under a cacophony of music. Angela does her best impression of Hackman’s Harry Caul in “The Conversation” and adjusts digital and physical dials trying to deaden the music and background noise to isolate the voice and what’s happening. At one point she unscrews an audio-jack protector from a set of Audio Technica headphones. Getting the basics right goes a long way in building the believability of a world like “Kimi”. Which makes the latter sequences of “hacking” with disjointed random keyboard tapping so disappointing.
Soderbergh continues to use the camera intuitively to tell his story. At one point he switches from a widescreen landscape to two overlapping eccentric circles conveying the visual field of Devin Ratray’s voyeur characters binoculars to the viewer. It’s these small details in conjunction with his slow pushes in and out, dynamic handheld camera work while Angela is on the run and a particularly well-crafted drone piece that makes “Kimi’s” world feel crafted. The camera is at its most frenetic when Angela has the least amount of control and returns to a sense of calm even though the risks are high when she returns to her apartment at the end of the film. When Angela is outside her apartment is when we encounter the most compromising portions of the film. Hired hitmen that are inept, a weakly presented protest/kidnapping scene, and the aforementioned keyboard issue and the corresponding screen CGI design to those superfluous keystrokes. These flaws aren’t so significant that they ruin the film, but they are the worst flubs I’ve seen Soderbergh make in years from a believability standpoint.
“Kimi” naturally fits in Soderbergh’s catalog on the shelf, touching 2013’s “Side Effects”, 2018’s “Mosaic”, and 2018’s “Unsane”. We may never know what deal with the devil Soderbergh made with HBO Max to make films that get released straight to streaming without any notable advertisement. While “Kimi” is flawed it’s among the best thrillers and new release VOD films you’re likely to come across this coming year.
“Kimi” is streaming on HBO Max.
You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on Letterboxd, Twitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.