We all know that Covid has changed the film industry to its core. That shouldn’t be a surprise given the increased prominence of streaming services and cinemas gasping for patronage. But I think if there’s one thing about this era of film that is going to really get on my nerves, it’s going to be movies centered around Covid. We’ve seen movies do this before, such as last year’s Recovery, and Kimi is another movie set during the pandemic and actually has it factor into the plot.
It’s understandable why you would include such a major world event in your film. It changed the world in a lot of ways and we’re still coming to terms with the new standard of living. But when movies like Kimi utilize the pandemic as set dressing for a movie that doesn’t have much to do with it, it feels cheap. I wouldn’t call Kimi a cheap movie overall though. I can call it a lot of things, but cheap wouldn’t be one of them. Interesting also wouldn’t be a word that I would use.
Maybe dull? That seems a bit more appropriate here. That or predictable.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Release Date: February 11, 2022 (HBO Max)
Angela (Zoe Kravitz) is a call log technician working for a company called Amygdala. They’re a tech company that specializes in personal digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa (the CEO of the company even brushes off comparisons to Amazon). One day, while dealing with interpreting audio data, Angela hears what sounds like a crime on one of the Kimis and tries to figure out what is exactly happening. This leads to her unraveling a big conspiracy within Amygdala and her higher-ups doing whatever it takes to make sure that Angela doesn’t keep digging to discover the truth.
The premise sounds pretty standard, but the marketing and plot synopsis doesn’t really do an accurate job of conveying what Kimi is about. This isn’t a thriller about the over-reach of tech companies and the sacrifices of personal freedoms and safety for convenience. Those elements are certainly there, but they’re afterthoughts. Merely blink and you’ll miss it moments that the movie doesn’t really draw attention to or even care about going into detail on. Instead, this is a character study about Angela and her personal struggles.
Angela is agoraphobic. She has a fear of going outside and will do whatever it takes to avoid doing so. In the first scene where we’re introduced to her, she nearly has a complete breakdown at the prospect of leaving her apartment. It’s very well handled as we watch her prepare to leave, only for her to freeze at the door and collapse in fear at the thought of just going across the street. You don’t see too many movies tackling the subject, and it’s a very interesting take on it.
Soderbergh frames the scenes within Angela’s apartment as quiet and controlled. The shots are static, slow, and make her apartment safe and comfortable. Thematically, these scenes work, as they’re counterbalanced by the scenes when she is outside of it. The shift is immediate as the camera shifts and shakes, tilts at odd angles and frames Angela in odd positions. You can truly feel the sense of panic and tension as Angela braves the outside world, worrying that everything bad that can go wrong will if only because Angela thinks it will. If you’re going to watch Kimi, you’re going to do it for the cinematography, because you’re most certainly not going to do it for the plot or Angela herself.
As far as thrillers go, Kimi is a generic and simple one that doesn’t know how to narratively build tension. The opening scene almost entirely gives the twist of the movie away, which for a thriller is just incompetent. In fact, the first half of the film feels like a dirge as we see Angela go about her day in the same static environment. Yes, it makes sense thematically and works within the confines of her character, but that still doesn’t make it interesting to watch. For nearly 45 minutes, we’re watching someone stare at computer screens and communicate over digital calls, which doesn’t do much for elevating the thrills in this thriller.
Even when we start to see the broader picture, big revelations lack any impact or payoff. Angela leaves her apartment to go talk with her boss, played by Rita Wilson, and without even knowing how the scene ends, you know exactly what’s going to happen and how. It’s predictable, which is something that I really shouldn’t say about a Steven Soderbergh thriller. The man directed the Ocean’s trilogy and Logan Lucky, all of which have great pacing and even better set-pieces, but Kimi just doesn’t deliver on either. It almost feels like Soderbergh was asleep at the wheel, cobbling together a generic thriller. When the twist ultimately did reveal itself, all I could do was audibly say “okay” and moved on.
Then you have Angela herself, which is a tricky nut to crack for a variety of reasons. Zoe Kravitz is an actress that, between this and The Batman, is a name you’re going to be hearing a lot more of. She’s a genuinely talented actress who does a lot to really sell you on Angela’s agoraphobia. The camera work also does a lot of heavy lifting, but the two work in tandem with each other. Kravitz brings a duality to the role that other actresses probably would not. When her fears take hold, she wilts, but when she’s in her element, her apartment, she’s assertive and doesn’t take no for an answer.
While I most certainly do empathize with her character, empathy does not equal likeability. Angela is an unpleasant person to be around. She’s frequently rude to others, willfully ignores anyone who attempts to provide assistance to her, lies, and takes advantage of other people for her own benefit. I know that not all protagonists need to be good people, but I should at least be rooting for them to succeed because I care about them, not because the plot tells me I should care about them. And yes, much of this stems from her character’s backstory of sexual abuse as well as her agoraphobia (it’s also speculated that she has autism), but none of it ever comes together in a meaningful way. I wouldn’t call her a complex character, but instead, someone who’s a bunch of underdeveloped ideas stapled together to create an approximation of a character.
The ending especially leaves a bad taste in your mouth thanks to Angela and the plot’s resolution. Without going into specifics, the ending is rushed and poorly wraps up her character, connecting her arc to the story in the flimsiest of ways. After the climax, the denouement lasts only a minute or two before the credits roll, and we’re just expected to believe that Angela is a better person now thanks to the events of the film. It feels like a forced happy ending that undercuts her own personal struggles. Even the symbolic marker of her mental well-being, a toothache, isn’t addressed at all, making it a plot point that is an entirely pointless addition.
Kimi is a bunch of half-baked ideas that only make the film function because there are so many of them that they fill in the holes of the narrative and character development. Kravitz does a remarkable job here, as does the cinematography, but you can tell both are working overtime to support the flaws of the film. We can argue about the nature of her character and whether or not Angela is a well-defined one, but this thriller simply fails to thrill. It’s by the books and uninspired with many moments that take too long to get going. Even when they do, they’re so bland and predictable that there’s no real suspense at what’s going to take place, other than one possible loose thread that doesn’t get fully utilized until the climax.
Soderbergh has done a lot better than this and unless you’re really dying for some new thrillers based around the pandemic, you should probably look elsewhere.