Those hoping for an end to covid-related movies, regardless of genre, are in for a disappointment as the trend — much like the pandemic itself — doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. Steven Soderbergh‘s latest hops aboard that train, but rather than attempt to milk suspense and thrills from the pandemic directly, Kimi instead uses this new normal as the setting for a tech-fueled exercise in paranoia and corporate overreach.
Angela (Zoë Kravitz) is a young woman with social issues working remotely for tech startup Amygdala whose flagship product, an Alexa-like device called Kimi, is helping drive up interest in the weeks before their IPO. She listens to and resolves flagged audio recordings, ones that resulted in errors or frustration from a user’s stifled attempt to play a particular Taylor Swift song to Kimi’s misunderstanding of some foul language. Angela’s ears prick up, though, when she hears a recording that features a woman in distress buried beneath the sound of loud music. She reports it up the corporate chain, but it soon becomes clear that someone at Amygdala’s home office (located, like Angela, in Seattle) wants the recording deleted forever.
There’s more than enough meat in that setup for a solid ninety-minute thriller — Kimi clocks in at eighty-nine — from the plot itself to the overlaying commentary on a world becoming less private even as it grows more insular and isolated, but Soderbergh and writer David Koepp can’t help but add a little more. That’s not a bad thing in theory, but there ends up being too much to the point that none of it gets the attention it deserves. Character beats are left wanting, the suspense feels rushed, and only Kravitz, the sound team, and Seattle itself come out on top.
Kravitz does good work as the anxious Angela, but the character as written is a messy mix of half-baked ideas. She mentions at one point that her mental issues are due to an assault she endured — not a spoiler as it’s unrelated to anything and neither the attack nor the assailant is ever mentioned again — and it’s an exploitative and lazily redundant effort to make her a victimized character whose triumphant return to “normalcy” can be cheered. Angela is already smothered in issues from possible autism to probable agoraphobia to the stress of of the covid pandemic itself, and Koepp seems unsure what the end result of it all should be. The central premise of the film already does the bulk of the legwork here, and the addition of these extraneous traits is nothing but noise.
There’s good noise here too, though — and no, I’m not referring to Cliff Martinez‘s ill-fitting score — in the form of the sound design that brings those audio recordings to life. When Angela dons her headphones and the files recorded by Kimi play they’re given the film’s complete attention. Shades of The Conversation (1974) and Blow Out (1981) come clear (as aural comparisons, not qualitative ones) when Angela busts out some audio hardware to separate and distinguish sounds in the recording of the woman. It’s a sequence that Soderbergh masterfully blends between the geeky and the suspenseful, but he makes a miscalculation that immediately and ultimately hurts the film.
Part of what’s at play in Kimi is the idea of women not being taken seriously in regard to their claims, while another is the pure weight of mental exhaustion and anxiety suffered at the hands of the pandemic — there’s also that thread regarding privacy concerns, but the movie doesn’t really care about it so you shouldn’t either. Both leave room for for doubt and interpretation regarding Angela’s concern, both from other characters and from viewers, but Soderbergh pops that balloon by showing audiences what’s happening on the recording while Angela listens. We even see the assailant’s face meaning the next time they appear there’s no chance for surprise or tension as they’re already and immediately pinged as guilty.
The resulting thriller aspects leave Kimi feeling pretty familiar and uninspired, and curiously it’s Angela’s cluttered personal life that becomes more interesting. Kravitz finds humor and suffering in the situation as a woman afraid to leave her apartment — wholly understandable as it’s a gloriously huge and beautiful loft in downtown Seattle that she’s clearly not affording on her tech assistant salary — whether it be for work, a dental visit, or a lunch date with her booty call neighbor (Byron Bowers). It’s a lifestyle enabled by the pandemic as the world has shifted in every way to make staying at home more and more reasonable, but while her agoraphobia is played up at first it goes the way of her autism (maybe?) and other societal fears once hitmen are on her tail.
Kimi is ultimately a very basic thriller built on threads from far better ones (Blow Out, The Conversation, The Net, 1995; Copycat, 1995; Intruders, 2015) but it’s a blue-haired Kravitz that keeps viewers fixated. Well, that and the neighbor named Kevin who’s spying on her home alone and played by Devin Ratray. Add in some minor thrills as Angela deals with her pursuers turned captors, and you have an easy enough eighty-nine-minutes of your life at home to fill.
Related Topics: Kimi