It’s hard to imagine a busier ‘retirement’ than that of Steven Soderbergh, who has been absolutely prolific since he announced his plans to quit the filmmaking business back in 2013 and, with Kimi, has just released his third film of the ‘COVID era’, which also happens to be his first film to actually tackle the pandemic head-on. The taut and energetic restlessness you can see in Soderbergh’s recent career as a whole is perfectly reflected in Kimi, a lean and efficient thriller that hearkens back to both Rear Window and the grim conspiracy thrillers of the ‘70s, updated to fit into our feverishly uncertain modern world of facemasks and smart homes.
The Kimi of the title is an smart home device that looks set to make its company phenomenally rich once its stock opens for public trading, separated from its Siri or Alexa competitors by the fact that actual humans listen to ‘problematic’ Kimi interactions – mistakes on shopping lists, picking incorrect songs etc – and manually fix them. One of these humans is Angela Childs (Zoe Kravitz), an agoraphobe working from home in Seattle whose condition has naturally been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, unable to leave her (admittedly very lovely) apartment to even grab a breakfast burrito from the food truck at the base of her building.
Angela has built a relatively ordered life around her condition but, upon hearing a violent crime being committed on one of her Kimi audio streams, she’s forced to engage with the outside world, as the true power and influence of the perpetrator gradually comes to light. Soderbergh paces the mystery perfectly, packing plenty of plot and character into less than 90 minutes without feeling rushed, all the way up to a very silly but also deeply cathartic ending.
It’s one of a few slick set-pieces that Soderbergh conjures here, the highlight of which is probably a chase through the offices and streets of Seattle as Angela is pursued by agents of a shadowy mogul with a lot to lose if Angela releases the audio files. The camera swoops elegantly through rooms and across roads, and having one of the agents be very tall and the other very short adds a superb dash of humour to what is otherwise a very tense sequence.
To immerse us in Angela’s anxious headspace, Soderbergh uses a lot of harsh lighting and discordant sound cues which are certainly effective but also ensure that Kimi isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of experiences. This has become rather typical of Soderbergh of late, though Clint Mansell’s score is excellent here, classy yet paranoid in a way that feels very fitting for a story about big tech.
David Koepp’s script is very astute on the discomforting ways these big tech firms run our lives, from a central premise that’s already a nightmare for anyone who values their privacy, to the corporate doublespeak Angela encounters when trying to report the crime to the very creepy way the Kimi units say ‘I’m here’ whenever they’re addressed. Very often, movies that attempt to grapple with the cutting edges of the modern world fall embarrassingly flat, so hats off to Soderbergh and Koepp for keeping their commentary smart and incisive throughout. It’s this sort of precision that defines Kimi, from its modest runtime to the subtle layers of Kravitz’s excellent lead performance, a deeply modern thriller with a refreshingly old-school heart.