KIMI is the new straight-to-HoBoMax Steven Soderbergh joint. This one is a tight little thriller written by David Koepp (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, SNAKE EYES, PANIC ROOM) with all the breeziness and smarts you expect from Soderbergh, plus that knack he has for style that simultaneously seems retro and more of-this-very-moment than anything anybody else is making. Like, it seems like it’s shot pretty run-and-gun with modern, lightweight digital cameras and natural lighting and stuff, but the staging, framing (and credits) sometimes remind you of how the ‘70s suspense classics were crafted.

We could call it a techno thriller because the titular “Kimi” is a Siri or Alexa type device through which our heroine, Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz, THE BRAVE ONE, ASSASSINATION OF A HIGH SCHOOL PRESIDENT), accidentally hears a murder. Her job is to listen to recordings of times Kimi didn’t understand what people were asking for, figure out what the miscommunication was (a regional term, a pop culture reference, a word used incorrectly) and add new information to improve the algorithm. When she hears something disturbing in the background of a recording she does some sleuthing, tries to navigate the company’s dense protocols for handling such a situation, and becomes a target.

One of the things that’s really smart about KIMI is that with this vaguely creepy device at the center you assume it’s gonna be a tech paranoia movie. Everybody now days is at least a little unsettled by how much we’ve come to accept violations of our privacy and commodification of our every electronic interaction, so it would make sense for the scary part of the movie to be that employees of Amygdala like Angela sit at home and listen to recordings of people who think they’re only talking to an inanimate object. But that’s not the threat here. In fact, most of the voyeurism in the movie is analog – some of the supporting characters are her neighbors who she sees in their windows across the street. She has a seemingly imbalanced relationship with one of them, Terry (Byron Bowers, HONEY BOY), and there’s a great scene where after he comes over and she’s kind of awful to him she stands on her balcony and watches him return to his apartment. She sees him throwing his jacket down, knocking over a lamp, and angrily closing the curtains, knowing she caused that.

What KIMI recognizes is that technology is neutral – the threat is the amorality of the companies that create it. If another employee besides Angela had been assigned this recording they likely would have just passed it on to the person they were supposed to and not gone the extra mile to make sure justice was done. Just following protocol instead of morals.

At Amygdala we see relatively small ethical lapses – Angela is told that there’s no way to trace a recording to a specific device because of privacy policies, but then her co-worker Darius (Alex Dobrenko, BLOODY HOMECOMING) shows her that you can do it with the right password; Angela is disturbed to learn that a retinal scan recognizes her because she inadvertently consented to letting them scan her during conference calls. But because it’s a thriller it goes higher than that – we get the drift very early on that the CEO, Bradley Hasling (Derek DelGaudio, the guy from that IN & OF ITSELF thing everybody raved about a while ago) did something bad and has hired killers to cover it up.

The killers are good villains, but the HR department is almost as scary. Angela has a hell of time getting in contact with the higher up she was told to talk to, Natalie Chowdhury (Rita Wilson, PSYCHO [1998]), and is wisely suspicious of her when she finally does. I love the creepy way this movie uses insincere corporate P.R. language. Both the assistant on the phone (Jamie Baer) and Chowdhury in person keep repeating variations of “I assure you, we don’t take this lightly,” and the way they say it it’s pretty clear that’s the decided-upon phrasing and maybe this shit even comes up all the time. You can imagine these two drafting the apology statement after Hasling’s secret comes out. In contention for best moment in the movie is when Chowdhury looks Angela in the eye and tries to seem very sincere saying “You are a strong, brave woman” before leaving the office to get the assassins. Maybe she recognizes that this is true, that she herself wasn’t brave enough to endanger herself and her career to do the right thing. More likely she just knows that’s what you’re supposed to say now.

Angela has agoraphobia so bad she’ll only see her dentist over Zoom, so it’s a real challenge when she has to go out into the world to try to report this crime. Reportedly Koepp (I COME IN PEACE, TOY SOLDIERS, JURASSIC PARK, THE SHADOW, SPIDER-MAN, WAR OF THE WORLDS, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, THE MUMMY) pitched the premise to Soderbergh pre-Covid. So it’s a coincidence that having large sections of the movie contained to her apartment works well for a pandemic production, and having her afraid to leave home is extra understandable during these times, giving new life to a gimmick we’ve already seen in COPYCAT and other thrillers.

It’s the first movie I’ve seen that explicitly takes place during Covid, which I think is very Soderbergh. He gets down all the relatable details – loading up with masks, hand sanitizer and wipes before trying to leave the apartment, doing all your business remotely, dodging people in hallways – but he’s wise enough not to try to make it into some grand statement about the moment that might seem dumb or corny once we’ve had time to look back on it. I hope there’s a time when life isn’t like this anymore, and then when you watch it you can remember, “Oh yeah – that’s what it was like.”

Another good Covid moment is right at the beginning, when Hasling does a TV interview from home. When he’s done we see that he set up his nice bookshelf background in the garage, and off to the side there’s a stepladder and a bunch of other clutter stacked up. And of course he’s wearing a jacket and tie with offscreen jeans, shirt not tucked.

It’s a great touch because it’s funny and humanizing for this CEO character, so he seems more like a real guy than a typical movie villain. It’s also great casting – I didn’t know it was that magician guy but he just seems more like a real tech dork than if they hired, like, Cole Hauser or whoever to be the bad guy. (Nothing against Cole Hauser.)

Soderbergh’s always been great at casting like that. The hired killers here are also really effective characters, particularly Jaime Camil as one of those guys who seems kind of likable as he’s threatening your life and that makes him even scarier. I like that Robin Givens (A RAGE IN HARLEM) plays Angela’s mom, being that she’s a sitcom star peer of Kravitz’s real life mother. And that guy Devin Ratray (BLUE RUIN) is one of the neighbors – I never remember that he’s Buzz from HOME ALONE, so it didn’t occur to me that it’s kind of funny for him to be around when Angela goes Kevin MacCallister on some motherfuckers.

Of course this is largely on the shoulders of Kravitz, who is outstanding, and I will gratuitously mention that she looks spectacular with blue hair. There’s been alot of high quality blue hair on screen recently, and I’m for it. Kravitz is a legend just for being in FURY ROAD, but I think she’s really come into her own in the years since in stuff like GEMINI and her great High Fidelity show. I’m glad this character also collects vinyl, especially since she probly has access to some streaming music service or other over her Kimi. She still understands the power of physical media. Another thing Angela shares with Rob from High Fidelity is being easy to root for while being a total mess in relationships.

Man, Koepp and Soderbergh are a good team. The director adds his style and texture to the screenwriter’s sturdy, economical suspense skeleton. I love stories like this where there are lots of little details at the beginning that make you think, “I wonder what’s up with that?” and then you forget about it until some shit is going down and you realize it established some geography or a potential weapon or escape route or something. That seems to be important to them – they even pre-establish a protest against homeless sweeps that she runs into downtown, even though in real life you can encounter that stuff all the time without warning.

There’s a thrilling moment (THRILLING MOMENT SPOILER) where she gets dragged into a van but is able to fight her way out because protesters see it happen, block the van from moving and prevent her abductors from closing the doors completely. I love it so much because number one, it’s terrifying, and number two you almost never see left wing protesters portrayed this way in movies. They’re usually there as dystopian texture or as a punchline. But having been to protests (including right where this was filmed!) I’m positive this is what they would really do. It would seem like she was one of them and being persecuted, but even if they knew it was unrelated I believe they’d intervene like this.

And yes, I know the spot because this takes place in Seattle. The main location, her apartment and the street in front of it, were actually filmed in L.A., but once she ventures into the city they actually did us the solid of using real, on-location Seattle. So now I will discuss Seattle shit.

Kravitz running in the direction of my apartment, unaware of how many Toast the Knowing questions await.

I was aware that Soderbergh and Kravitz were in town filming this. Word got out when they were looking for extras for the protest scene. If I hadn’t been holing up to hide from Covid I would’ve made an effort to find out where they were filming and try to watch. So it’s killing me to realize that several scenes were filmed really close to me. I’m pretty sure the exterior of the Amygdala building is in my neighborhood, and when she escapes and looks up directions to the FBI office she’s on a pedestrian bridge right down the street from me. If I had gone jogging that day I would’ve ran into them! They crowded it with extras looking like they’re going to work, but it really leads to a waterfront park, so you’ll usually just see a few people going for walks. Also you gotta look out for dog shit. I’m sure some poor P.A. had to deal with that.

I was thinking that like THE PAPER TIGERS this was gonna be the rare movie to take place in Seattle but not show the Space Needle – however, they do show it out of focus in the background when she’s on the bridge. That’s cool. I’m only against showing it in second unit drone shots and then shooting everything else in Vancouver.

Geographically, of course, it doesn’t all make sense, but that’s the magic of cinema. It’s so cool to see Kravitz in a spot I’ve been a million times, taking the light rail I take to work, even using stops I’m familiar with. Here she is at the International District station:

And there’s one regional detail that impressed me. When her therapist mentions “Evergreen” (unfortunately in the context of a place where something traumatic happened to her), it means she went to The Evergreen State College in Olympia, known as the hippie college where they don’t have grades, the school Matt Groening went to, and the one Courtney Love was dissing in the Hole song “Olympia.” I may or may not have some connections to that place and I’ve never heard it mentioned in a movie before, so I appreciate somebody doing their research. If they had used the term “Greener” (which is what people who go/went to Evergreen call themselves) I would’ve fainted.

Angela’s apartment/condo is huge and beautiful and would cost an absolute fortune if it was in Seattle. (Might be even worse in L.A.) But it seems like her skills are pretty elite, so I buy that they pay her well. I think I saw some Sub Pop thing on the wall, I guess that’s believable local flavor. I believe less in the photo of the Space Needle in the building lobby, but you never know.

The next frontier I would like to see for Seattle representation in a movie is having somebody get a hot dog with cream cheese on it. I know it sounds weird and I thought it was a joke when I first heard that called “Seattle style,” but a stand called Dog in the Park sold me on it by using the cream cheese to balance spicy chipotle Field Roast. Now I do it all the time. So look for that in KIMI 2.

I’m not sure if they’ll ever give KIMI a physical media release, but if you have Home Box Office Maximum I highly recommend checking it out. And while you’re there, they also have Soderbergh’s great crime movie NO SUDDEN MOVE, which was one of my favorites last year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 17th, 2022 at 2:10 pm and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

29 Responses to “Kimi”

  1. No offense to the vinyl collectors here, but I think it became a bit of an overused cliche to show a character’s vinyl collection as character trait. I mean, they could at least give it a twist and show a character digging through CD shelves. (He wrote after he took a bunch of Maxi CDs from the early 90s out of his mailbox.)

    Sadly no movie is ever shot in my hometown, but I guess that’s the downside of not living in a big city. I know a few movies that were done in my surrounding areas, but never in places I recognize. Well, that one movie NICHT MEIN TAG has a scene where the characters are supposed to be in a strip club in Amsterdam, but when they walk outside, they leave a very recognizable brothel in Cologne. (No no, it’s really that recognizable, that everybody who spent a certain amount of time in and around Cologne knows what it looks like from the outside!)

  2. Really liked this one. I haven’t seen Zoe Kravitz in anything since Mad Max– which I forgot she was in– but her performance here was great. Anxious but determined, in over her head but smart and pragmatic. It helps that I can relate to an OCD character who won’t leave the house. I particularly liked the little character detail of how she air-dries her hands after using sanitizer. I wonder if that was a conscious character choice or just something Zoe Kravitz does.

    I dug the moment right after Rita Wilson calls her a strong, brave woman, when she says “No one’s ever accused me of that before.” Lots of details in this movie that are just part of the world– women being ignored or brushed aside, corporations trying to avoid responsibility, COVID being a thing we have to put up with, technology erasing our privacy and being used in moral and immoral ways.

    Very happy to see Jaime Camil, of whom I’m a big fan thanks to his role on Jane the Virgin– a show I was not at all the target audience for, but is one of my favorite TV series of this century. It amuses me to imagine Soderbergh binge-watching that. Also chuffed by the Andy Daly and David Wain cameos.

    Loved the apartment set, and the sound design, and the overall Soderbergh vibe. I didn’t love the epilogue, which did fit in with the ’70s aesthetic but felt too easy for the characters. And I wish something Angela had programmed into Kimi had been used to help her in the climax.

  3. I thought this was great, and staggeringly well-paced—Soderbergh and Koepp and Kravitz create a believable, shaded character, put her through a twisty suspenseful plot that feels urgent but never rushed, and somehow manage to have it all clock in under 90 minutes. It also managed the rare feat of incorporating technology into the plot in a way that feels grounded and plausible—I caught some Mr. Robot vibes.

  4. It’s weird that you brought up really liking the blue hair because that’s an aspect I fucking hated. She agoraphobic to the point where she’d rather suffer through a hot abscess than to venture to the dentist. But to hit the salon for a pixie cut and blue dye job? No prob. (and yes, you can find someone who will cut your hair via housecall. Cut, completely strip, then dye your hair? In what? The kitchen sink? Yeah, that’s not happening)

    I mean, there’s a bunch of stupid things in this movie (The hired killers look EXACTLY like she imagined them to look? Perhaps they’re on staff at Amygdala, and she’s seen them around the office? Oh wait, she doesn’t go to the office…) but they pass. The blue hair, however… A constant reminder that “Yeah, she’s this total agoraphobic mess and weirdo. But she can’t look UNCOOL”

  5. Has there ever been a film that made a big deal out of someone having a MiniDisc Collection? Or Laserdisc for that matter? Heck, in a few years maybe a highly cultivated DVD collection can be a quirky character trait. Maybe they’ll all be early 00s cardboard snapcase releases just to add a little extra quirk.

  6. I don’t think we were meant to think she was envisioning them exactly—her visualizations were blurred and distorted and yeah, they used the same actors, but why not? It was never a narrative point that she had “seen” them—like, it’s not as though it would be unclear to her that the guys walking menacingly through the office weren’t bad guys.

    As for the blue hair, it felt completely in character that it would be important to her, and it doesn’t seem unrealistic to me that she’d figure out a way to get it done. I don’t need to know how. She’s inventive and seems to have income to spare. She even tried to get her dentist to do a housecall! (And it seems like he would’ve if he could’ve brought the necessary equipment.)

  7. Liked this for what it was, a pretty low key Sodenberg effort. Liked the very controlled camera work in the house juxtaposing with the frantic one once she goes out.
    Pretty contained and clever story as well, believable motive as well. Right in the brink of becoming a billionaire, the tech guy looses his shit and murders loose ends.
    Only thing I kind of found off and am surprised nobody commented on already, was how easily she becomes John wick via Mcguiver at the end. She effortlessly “guns down” 3 ASSASINS with a “I knew how to take the safety off and make it a lethal weapon” nail gun. Movie was on a path of plausibility up to that point.

  8. For the record her record collection is not mentioned, I just noticed it in the apartment because I like records. For the record.

  9. I see what you did there.

    I liked this just fine but felt oddly unsatisfied at the end, but I often feel that way with David Koepp scripts (the exceptions being SECRET WINDOW and WAR OF THE WORLDS). The guy is such a pro — his plotting especially — that everything works exactly as it should, but often there’s some intangible something that’s missing, for me. Some grit, some surprise, a flash of red where you’re expecting blue… I’m not sure how to describe it. I still enjoyed it, but the only thing that’s stuck with me since I watched it is the jittery handheld / wide-angle lens, low-to-the-ground shooting style Soderbergh uses when Kravitz is out of the apartment.

  10. PetrosMT, the movie goes out of its way to illustrate that she is familiar with construction sites right at the beginning.

  11. Pacman 2.0, there is a joke on Love on Netflix where Paul Rust owning blu rays is shown as a quirky character trait. I don’t remember the full context though.

  12. I really liked this. A lean suspense thriller which is very clearly of “now” without being an exhausting commentary about what that means. All of the performances were spot on, the tech stuff was believable, and whatever plot-holes or qualms I may have had were overshadowed by the excellence everywhere else. Also (SPOILER) I really appreciated that they showed her use duct tape on the nail gun so that it could be shot without being pressed against a surface. Way too many movies play it like you can just pick one of those up and start launching nails at people.

  13. “they showed her use duct tape on the nail gun so that it could be shot without being pressed against a surface.”

    I wasn’t interested in this movie until now. I’ve been waiting for a filmmaker with the brass balls to address cinema’s lack of proper nailgun usage my entire life.

  14. Majestyk- I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, but either way I got a good laugh out of your comment!

  15. I am dead serious. Ever since I spent the summer of my ninth year as my carpenter grandfather’s assistant, I have been appalled at the film industry’s propagation of nailgun-related myths. Do they also address the fact that they only function when attached to large and extremely loud air compressors, meaning you can’t run around playing cat and mouse having shootouts with them? Because that’s the next step.

  16. To be honest, I’m not sure if they address the air compressor aspect. My gut says, “no”. But it’s not being carried over super long distances, so there very well could be a cord attached that I’m not remembering off the top of my head.

  17. Baby steps, I guess.

  18. I actually rewatched the ending to look into this issue (and also just to rewatch the ending). The nail gun looks like a Paslode Cordless XP gas gun with the logo obscured. It works from fuel cells, so no cord would be needed. Not sure how effective it would be in real life for disposing of home intruders, but it’s not completely implausible.

  19. Matthew B- Thank you for that insight!

  20. I thought ‘Chekov’s Nail Gun’ was introduced was by her being annoyed by the racket the compressor was making. But I guess I misunderstood

  21. jojo: Yeah, you’re right. There’s a pneumatic nail gun at the beginning, different from the one she uses later on.

  22. Universal★Rundle

    February 23rd, 2022 at 9:55 pm

    I watched this because of your review, Vern, and halfway through, seeing Zoë Kravitz doing these little toe-steps while she was on the phone, I thought: Holy, I’m watching this generation’s Audrey Hepburn. Is that possible? Sabrina, Funny Face, if she was translated to our post-racial future?

  23. Majestyk, you have ruined nail guns for me now. Watching No Exit a pretty decent little thriller on Hulu and the second the found one you got me thinking it’s bullshit.

  24. @JeffG I JUST saw “No Exit” as well, thought it was one of the best and more taut thrillers I’ve seen in a while.
    But damn that lack of “unlocking the mechanism” from Kimi seriously bugged me, especially since (spoilers??) the nail gun in “No Exit” does a LOT of work for the plot.

  25. PS
    Vern, watch No Exit! Doesn’t matter if you’ll review it, it’s just a great movie!!

  26. No Exit was great, and Fresh, coming direct to Hulu on Friday, is supposed to be great also. Good little run of horror/thrillers.

  27. I watched this one for the realistic nail-gunnings and it mostly delivered. Yes, as has been mentioned, they clearly had a compressor up there, so somebody was running a conventional pneumatic model, but that doesn’t preclude some other fancypants member of the crew bringing his own cordless version. Personally, I wouldn’t leave it lying around the job site like that after hours unless I knew for a fact the foreman would reimburse me for stolen property (it retails for over $300), but nobody ever accused contractors of being the sharpest tools in the shed. I kinda doubt the nailgun would have that huge ridge on the safety mechanism that gave the duct tape something to catch on–seems like something like that would lead to horseplay and accidents and lawsuits. Also I REALLY doubt the accuracy and long-range stopping power of such a makeshift weapon–not to mention the ability of both of Angela’s dowel-thin arms to even hold that thing steady, let alone one of them. That gun weighs 7.2 pounds, and I’m assuming that’s unloaded and possibly even without fuel cells. I’m betting the one in the movie is a plastic prop. Still, when it comes to nailgunnings, awesome has always won out over realistic. Which is why I guess I gotta check out this NO EXIT movie next. Looks like 2022 is turning out to be The Year of the Nailgun.

    As far as the film’s non-nailgun-related aspects, I liked it. Soderbergh’s style is, as always, above reproach, and all the performances walked a fine line between subtle and quirky. I thought I was gonna have a problem for a minute because I didn’t warm to Angela at all at first. Even while sympathizing with her totally understandable desire to stay the entire fuck away from people at all times, she was still kind of a jerk to people she had no reason to be a jerk to. But as the movie went on, I saw that she was just the right kind of jerk for this story. She’s not going to be put off by civility or politeness or gaslighting or the social contract or corporate doublespeak or the chain of command or any of the other obstacles that might prevent a protagonist with any fucks left to give from getting to the bottom of this mystery. As her corporate lapdog supervisor said, she’s just gonna keep saying the same thing until you hear it, no matter how annoying that makes her. Her jerkiness is also what probably allowed her to slaughter three people in her own home and sleep like a baby that night. So she won me over in the end.

    Also it’s weird that Zoe Kravitz and Natalie Portman are nearly indistinguishable from each other from the bridge of the nose up. Once Zoe puts her mask on, she could be a Padme double.

  28. Majestyk,
    Please watch No Exit on Hulu if you have a chance. I loved it, a great little thriller. But lots o’ Nail Gun for you to analyze.

  29. So on the recommendation of several of you fine people, I watched NO EXIT and liked it a lot. Great location, solid cast, a couple of decent twists (and one kinda eh one). It’s exactly the kind of bare-bones little thriller that never goes out of style. As for the hot, hot nailgun action that convinced me to seek it out, it was very well done. I generally think of the nailgun as a reluctant hero’s weapon. It’s something you grab as a last resort, like a fireplace poker. It’s less cathartic in the hands of a villain, but the trade-in is that you feel its viciousness more. I DEFINITELY appreciated the line of obvious ADR that explains that they “rigged the safety” so it would fire like a real gun. Clearly somebody from the KIMI set had leaked the fact that nailgun verisimilitude had been cranked up a notch so all that old Hollywood bullshit wasn’t gonna cut it anymore. Who knows what other revelations 2022: The Year of the Nailgun will have in store?

    Also I appreciated that Dennis Haybert still sounds like Cerrano from MAJOR LEAGUE when he says “Fuck you.”

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