Some of our most timely cultural anxieties are mined from and mirrored in Kimi, the latest crime thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh. Not only does the film focus heavily on the insidious side of the tech industry and its panopticonic nature, but it candidly addresses the reality of the pandemic and the apprehension inherent in “returning to normal.” Written by seasoned screenwriter David Koepp, it packs a punch in all the right places—but falls just short of saying something truly salient about the topics it tackles. However, Zoë Kravitz playing an endearingly awkward agoraphobe is always entertaining to watch, and often elevates the film in spots where it otherwise might flounder.
Angela (Kravitz) lives a seemingly idyllic work-from-home lifestyle. Her enormous Seattle apartment is well-decorated and pristine, she adheres to a workout regimen on gym-grade personal equipment, and is issued a plethora of flashy gadgets due to her tech industry job. Akin to a Facebook moderator (which she actually alludes to having been employed as in the past), Angela listens in on audio streams captured by an Alexa-like personal assistant named Kimi, particularly those which have been reported as having unsuccessfully processed user requests—such as not recognizing the title of a Taylor Swift song or crude, prepubescent taunts. Though Angela seems to have it relatively made, this lifestyle is one she forges out of necessity as opposed to leisure: A longtime agoraphobe, she’s pretty much restricted to a life entirely conducted from within her apartment, the only tangible human interaction in her day to day life stemming from one-note FaceTime calls and people-watching through her enormous loft windows. When Angela stumbles upon what sounds like a violent crime being committed during one of her routine streams, she reaches out to her employer immediately to report the audio. Dismayed at the company’s relative lack of concern—and realizing that there’s only so much she can do from the protective comfort of her abode—Angela decides to investigate the issue solo, which involves trekking around Seattle despite her intense aversion to being in public. Unfortunately for Angela, her prying makes her an unwitting target for a conspiracy much larger than she could have imagined.
While the nature of the scandal that Angela uncovers provides gripping twists and thrills, what really gives Kimi its edge is the way it handles the presence of the pandemic—Angela makes off-handed remarks about Covid during virtual therapy sessions and video calls with her mother, and always makes sure to grab her reusable mask before even attempting to venture outdoors. The Covid theme doesn’t define Kimi, but effectively evokes the relevance of our increased reliance on technology and the way that the pandemic has accelerated this dependence. It also reflects the realities of the surveillance state we have grown eerily comfortable in, even when accounting for the constant threat of data breaches and the looming suspicion that we are constantly being monitored and listened to. Yet for a film that pieces together two incisive and interrelated facets of our current lived experiences, it is apparently uninterested in following through with this connection. The tech sector is depicted as deeply corrupt and deeply inhospitable to actually aiding human life; the pressures of overcoming the pandemic and seamlessly returning to normalcy are presented as rational reasons to worry. But by the film’s conclusion, these thoughts are simply ditched in favor of neatly wrapping up Kimi with a neat little narrative bow, making its ending feel abrupt and aimless.
Despite these setbacks, Kravitz delivers: She plays Angela with gangly gusto, never reducing her to a nervous caricature while still playing up the comedic elements of her ordeal. If anything, Kimi absolutely warrants a watch on the basis of one scene alone: Finally mustering up the courage to leave her apartment, Angela begins running through Seattle’s city streets with brisk determination—and an aggressive inability to move her arms or meet another person’s gaze while doing so. This is a stark contrast to how Angela usually carries herself, often emphatically declaring her boundaries to the few people she interacts with from a safe distance. Though she’s still in clear control of the situation—keeping her body as tucked within itself as possible, molding her corporeal form to best shield her from her surroundings—it’s clear that her presence in the city has seriously unmoored her from the rigidity of the routine which has insulated her from the rest of the world. In a sense, this discomfort is essential to her survival, allowing Angela to hold her bearings in the face of attempted kidnappers and stealthy intruders who have nefarious ties to the tech sector.
What really registers as misguided in Kimi is the over-insertion of the titular product, particularly in the homes of techies who by nature would be much more wary of inviting an ever-listening device into their homes. Not only do Angela and her computer-bound contemporaries all have a Kimi (which honestly seems to be more of a nuisance than an assistant), they become increasingly aware of the device’s predisposition to being hacked and still opt to keep it in their most private spaces. As someone with a computer scientist for a sibling, one thing I can tell you about technologically-savvy people is that they’re the first ones to harbor deep distrust for the very equipment they’re tasked with handling. No techie with something to hide would ever willingly keep a Bluetooth tattle-tale in their bedrooms—but that level of inconsistency is just part of Kimi’s ridiculous, tension-riddled fun.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: David Koepp
Stars: Zoë Kravitz, Byron Bowers, Rita Wilson, India de Beaufort, Emily Koruda, Jaime Camil, Jacob Vargas, Derek DelGaudio
Release Date: February 10, 2022 (HBO Max)
Natalia Keogan is a freelance film writer based in Queens, New York. Her work has been featured in Paste Magazine, Blood Knife Magazine and Filmmaker Magazine, among others. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan