Kimi Steven Soderbergh Zoë Kravitz

Kimi is a brisk techno-thriller from Steven Soderbergh

In a Rear Window-esque plot, Zoë Kravitz overhears a murder.

Let’s not beat around the bush: Steven Soderbergh rules. The highly prolific filmmaker has averaged at least one film a year since his “retirement” in 2013, making an incredibly diverse group of films including High Flying Bird, The Laundromat and No Sudden Move. His latest, a direct-to-streaming techno-thriller called Kimi, tackles the COVID-19 pandemic and privacy. The filmmaker behind the best pandemic film pre-pandemic, Contagion, explores the far-reaching consequences of living our lives online. 

Zoë Kravitz stars as Angela, the agoraphobic tech-worker who overhears a crime as she’s working her way through a ticket system, feeding information into an Alexa-like technology called Kimi. As loud, Tool-sounding techno music blares, she hears a woman screaming, asking for someone to stop. She isolates the track and the sound, becoming convinced she might be able to save someone’s life.

Drawing inspiration from Hitchcock’s Rear Window (arguably one of the most prescient films of the 20th century, at least in terms of legacy), the film draws us deep into conspiracy. Soderbergh, who has long been fascinated by systems and technology, gets down and dirty with how large tech companies rule our lives and take advantage of loopholes to surveil and track our habits. He pulls back the veil on the systems that protect “the company,” even at the expense of its employees. 

A pandemic film that sidesteps the nitty-gritty of the pandemic in favour of its broader impacts, Kimi is claustrophobic. Much of the film’s first half unfolds in Angela’s palatial but impersonal loft apartment that she struggles to leave. She looks out the window, makes plans, but can’t seem to step foot outside. Trauma that predates COVID-19 has come back with a vengeance. Tension builds through this sense of isolation and small little tricks Soderbergh pulls, such as a bottle placed precariously at the edge of a counter. It leaves you holding your breath, unsure whether there’s a payoff or if it’s just a mistake. It’s a little scheme devised by a clever filmmaker who wants you at the edge of your seat even before we’re pulled into the thick of the story. 

The film investigates the many facets of surveillance built into contemporary life. On the one hand, it highlights the actual workers moderating and reviewing data streams that we may or may not be aware are being moderated and the trauma of that experience. From there, it takes us deeper into a privacy trap, questioning how much of our lives have been unwillingly sold off to mega-corporations. Central to the unfolding plot is the companies’ culpability in how this information is used and shared. In simpler terms, it’s okay to use the information to push personalized ads, and it’s not okay to use the information to protect someone who is being hurt. 

Undoubtedly, anyone with an even passing interest in privacy in our online dealings will find Kimi of interest. Like many of Soderbergh’s “smaller” projects, the film is an excuse to explore the limits of genre and ideas that Soderbergh finds particularly interesting. With recent films exploring the inner workings of the Panama Papers and sports bureaucracy, Kimi becomes the missing link in many ways, connecting human frameworks into something bigger and more powerful.

As far as a film goes, the movie is often more interesting on paper than in practice. Some of the more interesting momentum set up early in the film doesn’t quite pay off. As an actress, Zoë Kravitz works best in more aloof roles than this one — her intensity is better suited to smouldering glares than jittery nerves. When the action really gets going, the film’s second half also feels a bit more like an exercise, an attempt to bridge the gap between the online and the real world.

Nonetheless, the movie is rarely dull and flies by at a brisk 90 minutes. Kimi is a minor Soderbergh, but he always brings something exciting to his projects. As many filmmakers struggle to incorporate technology into their films, Soderbergh does what he does best: goes super-niche and specific, creating a story that reflects very contemporary questions and work. The movie makes a great jumping-off point for critical conversations about how much of our lives are under the thumb of Silicon Valley and what their true motives are. 

Kimi, directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Zoë Kravitz

Kimi is streaming on Crave and is also available on VOD. For more, please click here.

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