Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly and Steven Soderbergh just gotta keep on making films, which he does with his 33rd feature narrative title, Kimi, in which the central character’s intense agoraphobia very neatly overlaps with the all-enveloping presence of Covid. It’s a piece that feels like it was quickly made in the heat of the moment and creatively benefits from that edge. The film is also bolstered by the unsettling disruptions of norms, the feeling that the continuation of everyday existence is extremely tenuous. It’s a tight, taut little thriller—the third film Soderbergh has made under Covid conditions–that defines our times as the moment when communication via electric devices has superseded personal one-on-one contact. In this regard, the film clearly represents the time and place it was made.
Shot under restrictive circumstances that feel all-too familiar, the film was written by David Koepp, whose 30th produced screenplay this is; he clearly would have been very happy in the knock-‘em-out-fast big studio days. It’s no small surprise, then, that the story at first feels like a claustrophobic Rear Window for modern times, one that permits the central character to stay indoors for a long stretch but to remain in constant contact with the outside world via the internet.
Surely one of the few actresses to star in a film while sporting blue hair, Zoë Kravitz plays Angela Childs, who works for the titular online communications system in Seattle and troubleshoots as required. With a spacious, gorgeously appointed full-floor loft like this, who would ever want to leave home? But it’s gone beyond the pleasure principle—Angela avoids venturing outside at all costs; she’s nervous and paranoid to an acute degree, very good at what she does but seemingly ill-equipped to deal with much else.
You really do spend about the first quarter hour admiring her flat, a high-ceilinged, impeccably accoutered brick space overlooking other similarly well-groomed residences up and down the street. You can see why she’d rather not want to leave home, although there are even drawbacks to that, in the person of a guy across the street (Devin Ratray), who fancies spying on neighbors with binoculars.
Tightly-wound Angela does have contact with others from time to time, pursuing some game-playing friskiness with a sort-of boyfriend (Byron Bowers) and chatting with her supervisor (Rita Wilson) as well as her mom (Robin Givens). But she is only truly intimate with Kimi (Betsy Brantley), her most trusted colleague and the center of her world.
In a cue certainly taken from Brian De Palma’s 1981 thriller Blow Out, in which a sound effects technician detects traces of a political assassination on the audio of a film he’s recording, Angela begins hearing something awful underneath some communications on one of her streams. How she makes all of her deductions from what she picks up may not be entirely clear to the technically non-proficient, but the upshot is that Angela becomes convinced that a crime has been committed and that the guilty party may be the company for which she works.
It’s a sharp, neatly conceived conceit, one that finally forces the woman out of her home and into the world, as fraught a prospect as that is for her. But evidently she needed something this convulsive and extreme to finally get her out of the damn house.
Soderbergh makes the story into a tidy 89-minute suspense yarn that doesn’t exactly produce thrills and chills but efficiently guides you through a labyrinth of technological caves and passageways to a satisfying end. At this moment in time, it’s not the sort of film that would motivate viewers to venture into theaters, which is why it’s on HBO Max, but it’s a nifty little yarn, well told, with a modern technological twist.
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