Technology is terrifying in Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Kimi’

Since returning from self-proclaimed retirement five years ago, Steven Soderbergh has been working at a blistering pace, delivering a stream of robust thrillers and talkative dramas. At a time when Hollywood pundits are wringing their hands about the death of mid-budget adult films, Soderbergh has become one of the leading frugal filmmakers, doing some of the most expansive work of his career. His last effort, Kimiisn’t as gleefully entertaining as the heist movie Lucky Logannor as uncomfortable as asylum horror Foolishbut it borrows elements from these two vibrations.

The script, written by David Koepp, is an update rear window firmly rooted in our present COVID: a woman, strengthened by months of social distancing, intends to completely isolate herself from the world. Angela Childs (played by Zoë Kravitz) is an agoraphobic audio analyst living in a Seattle loft. She performs recordings for a tech company that makes an Alexa-esque device called “Kimi.” Like all the other home assistants who rule people’s lives, Kimi is a chunky, nondescript speaker who turns on your lights for you while listening to everything you say; it’s even better for spying than Jimmy Stewart was with his telephoto lens in 1954.

The plot is set into action when Angela, whose job it is to sift through the audio files of people giving Kimi ambiguous commands, hears something more nefarious happening in one of the recordings. The storyline is loosely based on an alleged real-life murder allegedly heard through an Alexa device, but Soderbergh and Koepp twist that story in all sorts of conspiratorial directions, spinning a larger crime ring around the attack. that Angela finds out. Some of the film’s most compelling sequences see her trying to piece together confusing background noise, which Soderbergh associates with blurry and ambiguous visuals, a multi-sensory rendering of a computer’s cryptic memory.

The only difference between this movie and a classic paranoid thriller like The conversation is that now everyone is perfectly aware of being listened to at all times. This passive feeling of dread feeds Kimi— the walls close in on Angela even when she’s just surfing the internet at home. Soderbergh gives the Kimi device its own creepy close-ups, as its lights quietly come on whenever its name is spoken. It’s always there, but mostly unnoticed, hidden in the background of virtually all of Angela’s phone conversations.

Kravitz plays it with appropriate nervousness; the performance is exciting from an actor who hasn’t appeared in a particularly intriguing movie role since 2018’s underrated neo-noir Gemini. Despite her circumscribed life, Angela is messy and passionate, flirting with a neighbor in the building across the street and healing hidden wounds from her past. Since the film’s main tension revolves around a callous (but still polished) machine, buffering the plot with these character details early on helps personalize the drama.

Kimi has fun supporting turns, including Joan the VirginJaime Camil as the disturbing villain and Rita Wilson as Angela’s useless boss, but almost all of the screen time belongs to Kravitz, who communicates the character’s growing and irritating techno-paranoia well. Koepp’s script reaches a ridiculous climax, but Kravitz’s convincingly troubled performance keeps the film on the right side of realism.

Movies are just beginning to engage with the continued presence of COVID in our lives. Soderbergh, in recent years, has been one of the boldest filmmakers to confront contemporary misfortunes head-on: High flying bird grappling with the impact of social media on sport and business, and The laundery dug into the financial shockwaves of the Panama Papers scandal. Kimi is yet another inventive blend of suspenseful storytelling and current concerns; if Soderbergh wants to keep churning out one a year, he’s unlikely to run out of thematically mature material.

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