Severely agoraphobic and riddled with anxieties born from past trauma compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz) is a voice stream interpreter working from home. Her employers are Amygdala, creators of an Alexa-like smart speaker called Kimi that makes controversial use of human monitoring to improve its search algorithm. Despite the entreaties of her concerned mother (Robin Givens) and semi-casual boyfriend Trevor (Byron Bowers), Angela refuses to set foot outside. However, her carefully controlled life is thrown into turmoil when she discovers an audio recording that seemingly captures a sexual assault and eventual murder. When Angela's attempts to alert executives at Amygdala go ignored she attempts to solve the mystery herself only to endanger her own life.
Working from a typically tight screenplay by reliable genre scribe David Koepp, Steven Soderbergh's shut-in thriller neatly melds the paranoia of a Seventies style conspiracy thriller with the anxieties wrought by the COVID lockdown era. Along with dealing with pandemic paranoia the plot touches on other topical concerns like the #me too movement, fears over artificial intelligence, techno surveillance and global protest movements (including a scene where protestors literally save one character's life). While Koepp's script does not delve into these themes too deeply it weaves them into a potent tapestry that genuinely strikes a nerve amidst these trying times. Equally potent is the methodical, voyeuristic quality inherent in Soderbergh's quite masterful direction that evokes and deftly updates themes found in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window (1954) in a manner similar to but subtler and better than the 1998 remake starring Christopher Reeve or the Nastassja Kinski vehicle .com for Murder (2002). Genre fans may also discern parallels with Brian De Palma's cult masterpiece Blow Out (1981) given the plot also hinges on an audio specialist discovering a recording of a murder.
Like Rear Window, Kimi is as much a character study as a thriller. Propelled by a powerful central performance from Zoë Kravitz (demonstrating the star quality that led to her casting as Catwoman in The Batman (2022)) the film explores the controlled, orderly life of its hermetic heroine. While there is a touch of Lisbeth Salander, punk activist heroine of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, about Kravitz's blue-haired techno-sleuth, Angela is a much more brittle character. Her daily routine revolves essentially around a series of self-devised rituals calculated to make her feel in control and above all safe, keeping the chaotic world outside at a distance through precise use of video chat, text messaging, fastidious cleaning and, one could even argue, even her preferred sexual position. Nonetheless the film makes it clear Angela exists in a prison of her own making, doomed to wither away unless she can summon up the courage to break free. As the mystery unravels so too does Angela's tortured psyche eventually revealing the deep wounds that connect her to the victim. When Angela finally, inevitably, ventures outside Soderbergh masterfully conveys her sense of panic and paranoia through wide angle lenses and frame rate trickery. Although cranked up to eleven the sense of disorientation and unease may well resonate with those still reeling from their own paranoid excursions during lockdown. Alongside a welcome albeit brief appearance from Robin Givens as Angela's mother, Rita Wilson pops up in a rare sinister turn as arguably the world’s least helpful H.R. manager. It all builds to a quite brilliantly orchestrated, suspenseful climax that, refreshingly for a modern thriller, forgoes riffing on Hitchcock or De Palma to forge its own bracingly original path.
Versatile American writer, director and producer whose Sex Lies and Videotape made a big splash at Cannes (and its title has become a cliche). There followed an interesting variety of small films: Kafka, King of the Hill, noir remake The Underneath, Schizopolis (which co-starred his ex-wife) and Gray's Anatomy.
Then came Out of Sight, a smart thriller which was successful enough to propel Soderbergh into the big league with The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Oscar-winning Traffic and classy remake Ocean's 11. When Full Frontal and his Solaris remake flopped, he made a sequel to Ocean's 11 called Ocean's 12, material he returned to with Ocean's 13. Che Guevara biopics, virus thriller Contagion and beat 'em up Haywire were next, with the director claiming he would retire after medication thriller Side Effects and Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra. He returned after a period of even greater activity with heist flick Logan Lucky and his first horror, Unsane.