'Kimi': An Exciting, Pandemic-Era Tech-Thriller
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
Lately, we have been seeing more and more films getting released that were made during the pandemic, and a few that have gone as far as to include it as a plot element. These films have varying degrees of quality, with some being fairly good, but a great deal of them feeling limited due to safety protocols. The worst examples are the ones that lean hard into including COVID-19 in the film, as it tends to feel either forced or gimmicky. But somehow, someway, Steven Soderbergh and David Koepp have managed to come up with an exciting, stylish, and well-executed film that includes COVID as an integral part of its plot, and is easily one of the better films made during the pandemic.
Kimi focuses on Angela, an agoraphobic worker for a tech company. She monitors data from an Alexa-like device known as Kimi, and struggles with how the pandemic has affected her mental health. However, when she discovers evidence of a violent crime that was picked up by a Kimi device, she must take matters into her own hands and go out into the real world. In the hands of a different director, this film might have come across heavy-handed, as it is dealing with some serious subject matter that is hard to get right sometimes. Thankfully, this film is directed by Steven Soderbergh, who might not be the first person you would think of to direct a movie like this, but he manages to be a good fit, and makes some rather daring, yet effective choices that elevate the film greatly.
What I find interesting about Steven Soderbergh is that he doesn't have a signature style, unlike many of his contemporaries. If you were to ask me to describe what a Soderbergh movie is like, I wouldn't be able to tell you. He has worked in so many different styles and genres over the course of his career, and has seemed to leave very few stones unturned in the process. While this description may make him sound more like a journeyman, there is something about the way he makes films that feels unique, even if he doesn't have any major trademarks. As a result, this makes every new film from him feel exciting, as you're not always sure what you're going to get. Will it be a grounded drama? A satire? A genre exercise? You never fully know what to expect from him. This is part of what makes Kimi so intriguing, as it feels so different from the bulk of his work, and allows him to really play around with some of the technical elements.
Soderbergh often serves as his own Director of Photography, going under the pseudonym of Peter Andrews. He is gifted when it comes to using the camera effectively, and one of the most consistent things about his work is that the cinematography is high quality. Kimi is no exception, and might even rank among some of his best work to date. There is a stark contrast between how he shoots the scenes in Angela's apartment, versus how he shoots the scenes outside of them. In the apartment scenes, the camera is stable and there isn't as much movement. When we go out of the apartment, however, we switch to handheld, and Soderbergh uses angles to effectively portray the anxiety and unease that our protagonist is experiencing. It's a strong use of the camera as a storytelling element, and is one of the most impressive elements of the film.
While the camerawork does a lot to raise the tension of the film, a lot of credit is due to the sound department on the film. There is some excellent sound design on this film, and it further puts us in the headspace of the main character. Speaking of sound, the score adds another fantastic layer to the film. Cliff Martinez has become the go-to guy for a more electronic inspired score, yet his work here relies more on real instruments. Martinez's score uses strings so nicely, and adds to the suspenseful feeling that Soderbergh is hoping to accomplish. While he includes some synths in the score, Martinez pushes them back a little, which makes for a bit of a subversion in terms of what some have come to expect from him.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that David Koepp wrote the screenplay for this film. I like a handful of the films he has penned, but it's been a while since I've seen a film he wrote that I liked. Thankfully, that streak is over, because this is easily his best script in a long time. It manages to be both a Hitchcockian tech thriller and an exploration of how the pandemic has effected the mental health of many. It manages to feel modern without feeling hacky, and delves into themes of security, how our data is used by tech companies, and corruption. Is this the most thorough examination of these themes? Not necessarily. However, it does handle them better than one might expect, and is a nice surprise nonetheless.
Of course, the film largely works due to Zoe Kravitz's excellent performance as Angela. I've always enjoyed Kravitz's work enough, but she's never truly wowed me until now. Anxiety is a difficult thing to portray on screen, but Kravitz pulls it off quite well, and gives a rather authentic performance. She wisely doesn't give into any cliches or go over the top with anything, and she feels more like a real person as a result. It's a bit of an understated performance, yet she feels so in control here. She has such a great screen presence in the film, and I sincerely hope that this leads to her taking on more roles like this in the future.
It's a shame that Kimi was practically dumped on HBO Max with little fanfare, as it deserves much more. I could see this being a film that you would put on for a nice Saturday night in, as it has a certain quality that hearkens back to action-thrillers of the 1990s and 2000s, while still acting as a contemporary film that is very much inspired by current events. There is a sense of urgency to the film from the moment it begins, which keeps the momentum going, and shows that Soderbergh and Koepp really care about the things they are saying with the film. I am curious to see how this film plays in about 5 to 10 years, as films like this tend to evolve into more of a time capsule and lose a bit of its sting. Despite this, I have some hope that this film might gain more of an audience over time, and may have a decent legacy. Either way, I'm hoping that more people will give this a watch, as it's one of the biggest surprises of 2022 so far, and a thrilling experience from start to finish.