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Film review: ‘KIMI’ fails to explore nuances of isolation in technology-ridden world

(Courtesy of HBO Max and Warner Bros. Pictures)

"Kimi"

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

HBO Max

Feb. 10

By Laura Carter

Feb. 11, 2022 7:38 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 13 at 9:30 p.m.

With a byte-sized plot, not even Zoë Kravitz could redeem “KIMI.”

The film follows blue-haired, agoraphobic tech worker Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz) as she attempts to pursue justice from the comfort of her own home. The haphazard crime thriller sheds light on the increasing role that artificial intelligence and voice recognition systems play in people’s lives. Yet, while the film showcases a vibrant cinematographic style, it falls short in both plot development and execution.

In a storyline reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” the film opens on Angela’s struggles with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on her mental health while navigating a tech startup for an Alexa-esque device called “Kimi.” From a window in her large Seattle studio apartment, she watches her neighbors as she works away at her desk strewn with many devices.

Since Angela lives alone, much of her dialogue in the film happens over the phone or via video call with her mother, therapist or other coworkers. The lack of sufficient dialogue in the film contributes to the slow plot movement, as most of the focus is pointed inward to Angela’s inner thoughts, making for a silent and vague storyline dependent on reading nuanced body language signals from Kravitz.

While there is some background information provided for viewers as to the nature of Angela’s agoraphobia, much of it seems like filler that only provides flat character depth. With conversations about a construction project sandwiched between comments about her deceased father, Angela’s character development seems forced and out of place.

[Related: Film review: ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ bewitches audiences with striking sound, set design]

The film also comments on the effects of isolation on people with agoraphobia and the increased anxiety a pandemic can bring to the community. By including verbal references to the pandemic and frequent mask usage by Angela, the COVID-19 theme is mentioned but relegated to the background after the first reference to the pandemic.

After a confusing exposition, the primary plot of the film is finally revealed when Angela randomly stumbles across a recording with the background noise of what sounds like a woman being physically assaulted and decides to report the recording to her superiors. Since Angela is met with hesitation about pursuing the case, it seems that the film may begin commenting on the implications surrounding a device that listens to inhabitants of a private space.

However, it does not, as it remains unclear exactly how Angela stumbles across the recording or how she is able to discern the voices in the background of the upbeat and loud music. Rather, indirect commentary about the effects of working for a large tech corporation as Angela’s efforts are dismissed to protect the interests of the company proves to be the most effective theme and plot-driving device, motivating Angela to continue her journey to avenge the woman’s death.

In an unbelievable move – especially because Angela is shown dodging her therapist’s video calls – she leaves her apartment and inhabits the role of a civilian vigilante running through the streets of Seattle to pursue justice. This jarring character transition appears to diminish the effects of agoraphobia, especially considering the lack of explanation as to why Angela is miraculously able to face her deepest fears and the outside world.

[Related: TV review: Netflix’s new reality show ‘Hype House’ fails to live up to hype]

What transpires next is an exhaustive chase scene through the city of Seattle as Angela attempts to make her way to the FBI before being caught by a group of men hired to apprehend, drug and take her back to her apartment to stage her murder. Again, in an unbelievable stroke of luck, Angela fights off the men in her apartment with the help of her neighbor, and the film’s main plot comes to a close with her finally making her way to a food truck across the street for a date.

Ultimately, the random events implemented to drive the plot forward do more harm than good in “KIMI,” and the film seems hastily put together. With underdeveloped plot points running rampant in every aspect of the story, the ending is unsatisfying, as viewers are left without answers to important thematic questions such as the identity of the woman in the recording and why the company tried so valiantly to extinguish Angela’s chivalrous efforts.

Though the film does effectively – but sparingly – incorporate elements of the COVID-19 pandemic into the plot, the relatable nature of being stuck at home fails to redeem a film that feels like a hurried modernization of stories that already exist. What could have been an engaging project about the effects of the pandemic on mental health and the individual pursuit of justice falls flat with audiences.

And in the end, “KIMI” leaves viewers searching for meaning in a tech-ridden world.

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Laura Carter
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