Film Review: KIMI (dir by Steven Soderbergh)

KIMI, the latest addition to Steven Soderbergh’s interesting but frustratingly inconsistent filmography, stars Zoe Kravitz as Angela Childs.  Angela is an agoraphobic tech worker who is living in Seattle during the COVID pandemic.  A sexual assault survivor, Angela spends her days and nights safely locked away in her apartment.  She works from home.  She always keeps her mask some place near.  Occasionally, she’ll have a video session with her therapist.  Her mom calls and scolds her for not going outside.  She exchanges texts and occasionally more with Terry Hughes (Byron Bowers), an attorney who lives across the street.

And, she’s watched by Kevin (Devin Ratray).  Kevin also lives across the street and, throughout the film, he’s occasionally seen watching her from his top floor apartment.  It’s creepy but it’s not surprising.  KIMI is a film in which everyone is being watched by someone else.  Sometimes, they realize it and often they don’t.  Welcome to the Surveillance State, where privacy is the ultimate illusion.

Angela works for the Amygdala Corporation.  Under the leadership of CEO Bradley Hasling (Derek DelGuado), Amygdala has created KIMI, the virtual assistant that is superior to Alexa because all of KIMI’s errors are corrected not by a pre-programmed algorithm but instead by human workers who are constantly listening to KIMI’s data stream and correcting errors.  Angela is one of those engineers.  Usually, her job consists of programming KIMIs to play individual Taylor Swift songs as opposed to building Taylor Swift playlists.  When one owner calls KIMI a peckerwood, Angela programs the KIMI to understand that peckerwood is an “insult; vulgar.”  However, one data stream contains the sounds of what Angela believes to be a sexual assault and a subsequent murder.

Uniquely, for a film like this, Angela’s struggle is not to get people to believe that she heard what she heard.  Instead, her struggle is to get the evidence to the people who need to hear it for themselves.  Angela is terrified of leaving her apartment and, once she finally does, the outside world confirms all of her fears.  KIMI is a film about paranoia, a portrait of a world where everyone can be tracked and no one — from Angela’s too-helpful boss (Rita Wilson) to the man who casually walks by with an umbrella — can be trusted.

As I’ve said in the past, Steven Soderbergh has always been hit and miss for me.  It’s remarkable how many Soderbergh films that I love but it’s equally remarkable just how many Soderbergh films I absolutely loathe.  At his best, he can be a clever stylist and, at his worst, he can be painfully pretentious.  And yet, regardless of anything else, you do have to respect Soderbergh’s willingness to experiment with different genres and styles.  Soderbergh never stops working, despite the fact that he announced his retirement years ago.  Despite getting off to a slow start, KIMI is one of Soderbergh’s more entertaining thrillers, one that does a great job creating an atmosphere of paranoia and one that is also blessed with excellent performances from Zoe Kravitz and Rita Wilson, who makes good use of her limited screen time.  KIMI is a well-made Hitchcockian thriller and, along with No Sudden Move, it’s a return to form for Soderbergh after the two terrible movies that he made with Meryl Streep, The Laundromat and Let Them All Talk.  Yes, Soderbergh can be inconsistent but when he’s good …. he’s very, very good.  (Sometimes, he’s even brilliant.)  Narratively, KIMI may be a relatively simple film by Soderbergh standards but it’s undeniably effective.

Along with being a portrait of our paranoid age, KIMI is very much a pandemic thriller.  Angela mentions that her relationship with Terry started during the lockdowns, a time when no one found it strange that someone would be unwilling to leave their apartment.  When Angela does finally step out of her apartment, she is, of course, fully masked up and her paranoia about being followed severs as a metaphor for the paranoia that many people felt (and continue to feel) during the pandemic.  KIMI is not the first pandemic thriller and it certainly won’t be the last.  Still, what’s interesting to me that the pandemic subtext will probably be more noticeable to those who lived in states with mask mandates and aggressively regulated lockdowns than it will be for those of us who live in states that never had mandates and which, for lack of a better term, re-opened last year.  Half the people viewing KIMI will nod in recognition as Angela grabs her mask before walking up to her front door and as she quickly dashes down the street, careful not get too close to anyone else.  The other half will feel as if they’re watching some sort of dystopian science fiction film.  It all depends on where you’ve lived for the past two years.

One response to “Film Review: KIMI (dir by Steven Soderbergh)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 2/7/22 — 2/13/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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