With virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri politely invading our pockets and homes at an alarming rate, a movie that taps into their ubiquity for paranoia was about as inevitable as the fact that one of their corresponding devices is probably listening in on you right now. Enter Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi: a smart and enthralling thrill ride that takes its title from the chirpy AI built into smart speakers that pop up everywhere in this film’s version of pandemic-era Seattle. Like last year’s The Mitchells vs. the Machines, it branches off from a knee-jerk “technology bad” tack and creates a conversation between analog and digital that sees the merits of both. The fact that Kimi is optimized from the input of human programmers who fix bugs stemming from user-device miscommunication is just one example of this film’s vision of how man and machine can co-exist.
One such data analyst is Angela (Zoë Kravitz), an agoraphobic voice stream interpreter who listens to recorded interactions between people and their Kimi-equipped devices and codes corrections from the “comfort” of her apartment. She becomes alarmed listening to an audio clip plagued by loud industrial music, not because the song itself is jarring but due to the screams of a woman that she faintly hears over it. Naturally, there’s protocol for this but given that Amygdala (the corporation behind Kimi) is days away from an IPO, Angela gets the runaround from her boss (Andy Daly) and boss’ boss (Rita Wilson) in trying to do the right thing. Circumstances dictate that she face her biggest fear of leaving her loft to get to the bottom of that chilling recording that she overhears.
As tech-focused as it is, the basis of Kimi‘s tense conceit stems from 1970s thrillers like The Conversation and Three Days of the Condor; Soderbergh even sneaks in an homage to Marathon Man for good measure. Computers may have taken up the space of entire rooms back then but the notion that “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you” is just as relevant here as it was in those movies. Kravitz does an excellent job absorbing this anxiety along with her fears of the outside world and creates a protagonist that is easy to root for even in her most unpredictable moments. Most of this movie’s first half, she’s interacting with actors through Skype and FaceTime because of her character’s condition but bridges the gap with a palpable physicality around her conspicuously large apartment.
In trying to get to the truth, it’s all about having the right tool for the job. When Angela first hears the suspicious stream, she extracts the audio file and puts it through noise reduction software. It helps but doesn’t get it all the way there. That’s when she runs to the closet to find an analog chassis of equalizers that notch out the necessary frequencies and reveal the disturbing detail of the recording. This push-pull of analog and digital working in tandem is at the heart of what makes Kimi such a fun ride but also a subtle commentary on how much power technology can give and take. The system that allows a potential violent assault to be uncovered is the same system that prohibits a keycard from opening the right door at the right time during a foot chase.
As cerebral as all of this may sound, the biggest joys of Kimi are ephemeral, courtesy of a top-notch director who knows how to pack a lot into 90 minutes. With over 30 feature films to his name, Soderbergh is simply one of the most impressive filmmakers around, also handling editing and cinematography here under pseudonyms as he’s done in past projects. He knows just how much information to give us in the moment so that we can recall prior details just in time for a rich payoff. Not all of his movies are home runs but when Soderbergh connects, there’s nothing sweeter than the sound of that bat cracking. Kimi is a first-rate thriller that people everywhere should be shouting at their devices to play right away.
Score – 4/5
New movies coming this weekend:
Playing exclusively in theaters is Uncharted, an video game-adapted action-adventure starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg about a pair of rebellious treasure hunters out to recover a lost fortune amassed by Ferdinand Magellan.
Also playing only in theaters is Dog, a road trip comedy starring Channing Tatum and Jane Adams about a U.S. Army Ranger tasked with bringing a military working dog to attend her handler’s funeral.
Streaming on Netflix is Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a reboot of the iconic 1974 horror film starring Sarah Yarkin and Elsie Fisher which finds Leatherface returning to terrorize a group of idealistic young friends who accidentally disrupt his carefully shielded world in a remote Texas town.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup