After the pandemic rendered going out impossible, many introverts would’ve felt relieved at the thought of studying or working from the comfort of their own homes instead of dealing with panic-inducing situations outside. Angela, the agoraphobic protagonist of Steven Soderbergh’s new film Kimi, seems to function better when she is at home. But when she stumbles upon an extraordinary incident—a possible murder—she dreads the thought of going out to... do the right thing.
Making a (mostly) single-setting thriller—particularly in a pandemic-era, restrictions-heavy environment—might look easy on paper, but keeping the audience invested, even with a runtime of 90 mins, is not an easy proposition. One way is to design the residence of the protagonist in such a way that you don’t mind spending some time looking at the interiors and observing the character’s routines. Alfred Hitchcock probably thought of this when conceiving Rear Window or Rope; Francis Ford Coppola would’ve thought of the same when he made The Conversation.
The design was essential to establish personality and geography and facilitate various camera movements. In Kimi, Angela’s (Zoe Kravitz) apartment is not just eye-pleasing—I would’ve loved to live in a place like that—but also spacious enough to give the characters plenty of room. Kimi conveys the joys of living alone until the time to panic arrives.
The film takes place in a fictional scenario not too different from ours. We meet a Siri-like virtual assistant that can do things like record every conversation and bring to life, at your command, any electrical and electronic devices wired to it. As the film opens, there is a suggestion that the man behind its conception may be involved in something sinister. We don’t see the person on the other end of the line. One day, when Angela sifts through several voice streams during her daily audio combing process and discovers something that troubles her, she decides to dig deeper.
We get scenes reminiscent of similar ones in Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, where John Travolta, a sound technician for Hollywood B-movies, senses something amiss after listening to a piece of audio he recorded during an assignment. A few years before Blow Out, Gene Hackman played a loner surveillance professional gripped by a similar bout of paranoia in The Conversation. Kimi even has Angela occasionally looking out her window, either spying at a neighbour or being spied at by another neighbour, thereby setting up some Rear Window-style intrigue.
Kimi is a perfect case study of informing character behaviour through actions instead of spelling everything out. One of the notable qualities is how Soderbergh often trains his lens on the objects in Angela’s apartment and how he makes them part of the character development. He sometimes lingers on them instead of Angela to give us a sense of what she is going through, depending on how long she takes to touch or reach for something. And as the vulnerable, agoraphobic voice stream interpreter who’d prefer to remain indoors, Zoe gets all the beats of the character right.
A dark chapter in Angela’s past is brought up but never explored. One scene has her unsettled after imagining the crime as blurry visuals in her mind. Another has her expressing interest in meeting a potential date, only to change her mind at the last minute due to a breakdown. An occasional dose of humour is born out of situations where Kimi, the app, reacts when ‘her’ services are not required.
Kimi comes from the mind of David Koepp, who is as adept at writing minimalist thrillers—he also created Panic Room, with director David Fincher—as he is with big-scale adventures like Spider-Man, Mission Impossible and Jurassic Park. Like Panic Room, that home invasion thriller starring Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart, Kimi, too, employs inventive and mathematically precise camera work when Angela goes into Sherlock Holmes mode inside her apartment.
But when she eventually steps out, the camera, as though to reflect her nervous state of mind, tracks her in disorienting low or tilted angles when she attempts to make her way through the crowds or evade the nefarious forces pursuing her. As he has always done in all his films until now, Soderbergh shot and edited Kimi under two different names. It is yet another testament to the robust imagination and versatility of Soderbergh and Koepp.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Zoe Kravitz, Betsy Brantley, Rita Wilson
Streaming on: Prime Video