The Panic Is on in "Kimi"
At least the streaming is comfortable enough.
Thankfully, Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi doesn’t fall into the usual trappings of techno-terror flicks, somewhat like the recent Child’s Play remake. In that film, A.I. assistant software turns into literal nightmares of American excess, where a monopoly was ultimately undone by a foreign laborer’s legitimate outrage. Now, Child’s Play wasn’t really some backdoor or front door socialist tome, nor was it much of a Capitalistic horror - especially considering it was part of a “franchise.” It was fun first and foremost, but also somewhat juvenile in its depiction of technology in general, and how haywire things can get when the evil switch is flipped on. There is no such switch on Kimi’s smart devices, which exist in a grey void of on-demand service. Users, on the other hand, are more easily defined as good or bad, but never do they imprint such traits on their A.I. tech. The Kimi of Kimi hears only what is allowed, pending terms and conditions acceptance.
Though, nobody actually reads those.
It’s a world where moderators listen in on bits and bytes of sound all in the name of making improvements, which appear to be skirting the legal and moral lines of privacy if such a thing is still real. There’s a chain of command in the contracted businesses that work within Kimi software operations, middle management to freelance programmers, and back again. In our present-day Covid world, remote work has never been so fully realized in a movie, as webcam sessions and text messages blaze throughout the working hours with the startling efficiency of true blue at-home professionals. Spike Jonze’s Her had a sociable and interconnected media cityscape as its environment which, while it had its own complications, was a bit ideal. Director Steven Soderbergh takes that ideal setting, and pushes it into this reality, to full background effect. Protests occur, a virus spreads, and the vulnerable have their safe spaces while maintaining plenty of contacts. The time and place of our new lives isn’t the whole story here, but it is what accentuates the story.
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Corporate bureaucracy, shady dealings, hoops to jump through, and violence to run from make up the thrills to be had in Kimi. It’s a procedural in remote contractor day-to-day life, nooks and crannies exposed, done up like an Alfred Hitchcockian suspense picture. And it’s brilliantly done.
When our hero Angela, played by Zoe Kravitz, goes to meet with a company higher-up played by a facade of comfort in Rita Wilson’s body, the tension is clear. Something bad this way comes, but not just because it’s that point in the film. Angela waits patiently for this department head to return to the office, believing that things may be resolved with her suspicions regarding a potential crime she came across in an audio file. She waits, she veers around corners and waits some more. This isn’t just building to a moment of action, mind you. It’s a slice of life used as a storytelling weapon against what is expected to happen next. There’s no jump scare, no musical sting, or any other dressing up. Just Angela and the pressure of the clock ticking.
As photographed by what I believe is Soderbergh’s alias, Kimi is captured with both cunning grace and tailored patience. It’s shot and paced with a one-thing-at-a-time mentality, where each and every scene is treated on an individual basis, with individual needs, for a collective whole. There’s still a throughline of tone and composition that’s followed on, it’s just all handled with careful craft as things unfold. When it’s time for Angela to “make her move” as it were, she requests that Kimi play “Sabotage” from The Beastie Boys at high volume. A more standard movie would’ve used the song as the soundtrack to a fight scene, but Kimi places it directly as just part of the room she’s in, as a distraction that’s taken advantage of. Again, the smart devices of the movie aren’t the canvas that the film is painted on - it’s not The Net - but objects placed in the portrait. And the portrait is of a suspense thriller. Soderbergh and crew are ever so wistful in their competence, their understanding, and their craft. They make things look so good and so easy, it’s only natural to fall head over heels in pleasure for a movie this great.
It’s oh so amazing too how powerful Zoe Kravitz is here. Her Angela has the impatience and go-go attitude of a case of Red Bulls, using her large-windowed ex-factory apartment as if it were the city that surrounds her. She has a gym, a theater, a restaurant, a doctor’s office, and even a dedicated assistant, all within reach. But, idle hands are the devil’s playground, and any act of stillness leads her to panic. She makes a production out of preparing for a breakfast date, showering, and collecting items as if she were avoiding something with being busy. The moment she’s ready to open the door, she hesitates and succumbs hard to the weight of her pain.
She will be forced to act and keep her momentum moving later on, and when it happens, Kimi takes a dive into some neatly rushed but calmly lensed sequences that match her pounding heart and worried breathing - or at least that’s what we imagine. Kravitz fast walks and holds herself tight as she’s being tracked, but slowly loosens up as the danger becomes more material. Anxiety and trauma can’t really be punched, but people can. And you know… that’s cathartic. Why can’t that be healthy in some way (smiley face emoticon placed here)?
There are other points to be made about Kimi, like how the film treats Seattle under Covid, but I’ll save such analysis for either another time or another writer - a better one, really. Child’s Play came up in my head first after viewing, and it is what it is: fun. Kimi is what it is: thrilling. One handles contemporary technology more maturely, and the other goes for full-on fantasy. Both are right, but a robot uprising is not something to worry about in a Steven Soderbergh movie - not yet, anyway. All we have to fear are the strangers across the street, and more so the ones further down. Kimi just plays music and makes phone calls. Keeps it simple.
Kimi is now streaming on HBO Max.
Sincerely Yours in Moviegoing,
A movie that also deserves a good theatrical run: