Film: Kimi

For a guy who “retired” in 2013, Steven Soderbergh sure is prolific. After coming out of retirement in 2017, he has released seven films in the last six years, and based on the recent No Sudden Move and now Kimi (2022), he clearly still has gas in the creative tank.

Kimi is a rare pandemic film that doesn’t feel like a direct product of COVID-19, instead directly acknowledging the pandemic and its psychological effects on its protagonist, Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz). Angela is a tech-savvy employee of the Amygdala Corporation, whose new smart-speaker “Kimi” is a rival for similar products like Siri and Alexa. Angela has a troubled past, one COVID-19 has only exacerbated, driving her further into a shut-in lifestyle. She now works remotely from a spacious Seattle loft, where her job involves resolving flagged miscommunications between Kimi and its users, in order to improve response algorithms. Although she has taken small steps toward going back out into the world—including a tricky romantic relationship with lawyer Terry (Byron Bowers), who lives across the street—her attempts to reintegrate into public life have been largely unsuccessful. But when Angela reviews a Kimi interaction that appears to contain evidence of a violent crime, it forces her out into the world again, right into the path of a dangerous conspiracy.

Depending on how the future goes, I suspect twenty years from now Kimi will either stand up as a chilling time capsule of stir-crazy pandemic paranoia, or—if things really go south—as a quaint portrait of early life in the Gibsonian jackpot. In other words, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the mood of 2022: a time of terrifying disease, social unrest, ubiquitous surveillance, and rapacious late-capitalist scheming, all stirred together skillfully into a 1970s-style conspiracy thriller. With stylistic echoes of films like Rear Window, Blow Up, and The Conversation, Soderbergh and screenwriter David Koepp have crafted a solid, engrossing mystery. (Cliff Martinez’s moody score draws comparison to the haunting work of Bernard Herrmann, only adding to an aura of Hitchcockian dread.) The story, meanwhile, speaks to the onerous weight of life in the pandemic, particularly for those of us with preexisting conditions that make COVID especially scary. If there’s a flaw in Kimi’s examination of crushing homebound isolation, it’s that Angela has such a posh and airy headquarters from which to weather it, and that she turns her finicky germaphobia on and off with puzzling inconsistency. But Kravitz is generally in fine form giving the weary grind of social isolation a relatable voice, and serves as a superb focal point for the slickly structured thrills. Do the final moments undercut the ominous undertones of the enterprise with an inappropriately upbeat tone? Perhaps. But in important ways, Kimi is a contemporary thriller with its finger on the pulse, and a chilling demonstration of how our intense present has mutated frighteningly into a science fictional dystopia.

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