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Soderbergh's 'KIMI' is of the moment

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One of the delightful things about Steven Soderbergh is how happy he is to play within the genre picture. His new suspense movie, KIMI, doesn’t pretend at all that it’s not a callback to Rear Window and Blow Out and any number of other paranoid thrillers. But it’s also as much a movie of this moment as I can think of, in that it’s the only one that I’ve seen, at least, in which COVID is an explicit reality, instead of being hinted at by some metaphor or ignored entirely. Soderbergh just says, “let’s go for it,” because that’s what he does.

Zoë Kravitz works for a company that produces a virtual assistant called KIMI, the same sort of thing as your Alexa or Siri device. She listens to audio snippets of requests people make to KIMI and updates the code when the device can’t understand the request. And then, one day, she hears a clip of what she’s sure is a violent crime, and the intrigue begins.

But Kravitz is also agoraphobic, mostly due to an assault she suffered, but also certainly because of the extreme psychic pressure COVID put on everyone. And so, things get hairy. Soderbergh is his usual zippy, economical self—he’s masterful at getting everything into place while also giving us a disorienting idea of what Kravitz’s world must look like to her. Some incredibly tense moments give way to something a little bit more darkly playful, as we’re reminded what a devilish sense of humor the director has, and also reminded of that well known dramatic principle of Chekhov’s power tools.

And on top of all that, Soderbergh really does root the movie in this moment—it’s not just lip service to have COVID be a part of this, we see how affected the world has become. Psychologically, yes, but also in how we interact with other people and in how the dividing line between work life and home life is now as thin as what’s just inside the camera frame and what’s just outside of it. It’s a lot to pack in, if you want to see it that way, but as is often the case with Steven Soderbergh, KIMI is also just a crackling thriller.

KIMI is on HBOMax

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.