Kimi, the latest film by prolific director Steven Soderbergh (Oceans 11, Logan Lucky), is an interesting character study that morphs into a thriller with a couple of points about how big business technology treats people as disposable tools. It’s also one of the few films firmly set in the COVID-19 pandemic era that uses of the visuals and themes of pandemic isolation in its story. It’s sort of another take on the Rear Window thriller trope; isolated person thinks they have critical information on a murder, and nobody believes them as their world collapses, but it’s very well done. It is very compelling for a movie where the main character doesn’t leave their apartment for 40 minutes. Also, the flick has a wry sense of humour and unexpected moments of intensity that gives it kick.
Angela Childs (Zoe Kravtiz) works for a tech company that uses the home assistant device, Kimi (think Alexa but squatter). She is also agoraphobic who works from home and video calls her mother (Robin Givens). Angela is in a sort of relationship with a guy in the building across from her, Terry (Byron Bowers). One day while working on tech support, she hears a snippet of audio she thinks may be a crime. Digging deeper with the help of one of her co-workers from across the globe in Rome, Marcos (Lakin Valdez), she’s able to unlock all the audio on the Kimi device. What Angela finds shocks her and she goes to a higher up executive, Natalie (Rita Wilson), so they can turn it over to the FBI. But the corporate owner, Bradley (Derek DelGaudio) wants this investigation shut down so he turns to the goon Antonio (Jamie Camil) to take care of the Angela problem, permanently.
Kimi’s screenwriter David Koepp has a lot of big franchise work on his resume like Spider-Man, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park movies so the pared down nature of this film is a bit of a swerve. But even in his big franchise work, the scripts contain business greed run amok which is also a theme here. When Angela calls her supervisor to report a crime instead of taking it seriously, they just bounce her around phone messages. The film is less about technology being evil and more about how technology listening to everyone can lead to problems. Since the Kimi device is always listening, and the characters often talk about Kimi, it boots up with “I’m here” which leads to some fun moments when the characters tell the device to shut up. When Angela calls up Marcos, he tells her privacy breaching can happen easily if they have an admin code. Valdez as Marcos is basically just an exposition piece but he has funny bits like how he’s surly drunk while working.
Kravtiz as Angela gives a watchable performance which is key since she’s the only person on camera for most of the time. Her agoraphobia is crippling, like early on when she promises to meet Terry outside at a food truck, she immediately goes into a hyper-intense cleansing regime only to make it to the door and then freak out. Also, there’s an interesting character bit that as she frequently sanitizes her hands, even when she isn’t leaving her house, she does this weird sort of air-dry movement that adds to the character’s strangeness. When she finally leaves her house, the world seems loud, discordant and frightening.
It could be seen as a bit of a plot problem that she doesn’t immediately go to the FBI and instead goes to her bosses, however, her backstory is that she had a bad experience with the police so she doesn’t trust authority. She’s definitely smart though, like when she gets into the corporate office with a retinal scan she says she never sat for one and her boss coldly informs her that they got it from their video conferences. Wilson as her boss is both condescending, faux sympathetic, and is trying to gently manipulate Angela into turning over the evidence without telling anyone else.
Givens as Angela’s mom is basically there just to get across some character background stuff about her daughter. Terry is the guy Angela is having a relationship with and Bowers shows how frustrating it is to deal with her mood changing at any time. As the big boss, DelGaudio comes off initially as benevolent about technology but as the movie goes on, he becomes slimier. There’s a few stalk and chase scenes in the film that Soderberg stages with flair. The finale is an intense home invasion sequence with Angela being confronted by the fixer Antonio and Camil manages to balance some dry humour and true menace. Angela runs into another neighbour from across the street played by Devin Ratray who is surprisingly heartfelt and heroic. What’s great about the finale is that Angela usesthe Kimi device to her advantage and has a awesome moment wielding a weaponized nail gun. The kicker to the scene has a funny, darkly humorous capper that jars nicely against the extreme chaos.
Kimi may not be the sci-fi techno-thriller it is marketed as, instead it’s more about a person trying to overcome their mental health issues to solve a crime. But there is a lot of style and fun moments in here, and when things get intense, it is riveting.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Zoë Kravitz, Erika Christensen and Rita Wilson