“Each as soon as in some time, maybe as an train in humility, Steven Soderbergh makes a very inexplicable movie,” Roger Ebert wrote in his 2002 overview of Soderbergh’s Full Frontal. Ebert is gone, alas, so I’ll say it—the most recent inexplicable Soderbergh is right here.
This can be a trigger for celebration, although, not consternation. Even when the prolific and uneven Soderbergh is in toss-it-off mode, he doesn’t direct boring motion pictures. His newest, Kimi, which premiered Thursday on HBO Max, is a slight, full of life thriller both saddled or enhanced—it’s laborious to inform—by weird narrative selections. The result’s an off-kilter Rear Window replace which dares to ask the query, What if, as an alternative of Jimmy Stewart peering out a window with a damaged leg, we watched Zoë Kravitz take heed to audio collected by a wise house gadget whereas struggling via a chronic bout of trauma-induced agoraphobia?
The plot itself is easy sufficient, particularly compared to Soderbergh’s final film, No Sudden Transfer, which stacked double-crosses atop each other till the reality wobbled. Right here, the villains are clear, and so is the hero. Angela Childs (Kravitz) works for the tech agency Amygdala, which is about to go public on the energy of its Kimi gadget, a competitor to Alexa and Siri. Childs spends her days in a sprawling, immaculate industrial loft in Seattle, listening to snippets of audio flagged for human interpretation, and infrequently joking together with her tech-support coworker in Romania. When she’s not working, she’s watching the information whereas spinning on an train bike, obsessively brushing her enamel, video-conferencing her mother and psychiatrist, or inviting her across-the-street neighbor Terry (Bryan Bowers) over to hook up. Sooner or later, she hears an audio snippet that feels like a violent crime. When she makes an attempt to report what she hears to Amygdala, she turns into the goal of highly effective individuals who don’t need the audio to leak.
The larger-picture story is common sufficient cat-and-mouse fare. The film’s elementary weirdness, although, seeps out within the particulars. Angela, you see, is severely agoraphobic, and won’t go away her residence, regardless of a painful tooth an infection. And but Angela has an electric-blue bob with child bangs. Name me a (literal) hair-splitter, however this tremendously high-maintenance coiffure could be very troublesome to attain at house, alone. It’s troublesome to think about a glance that merely screams “five-hour appointment on the salon with common trims” extra explicitly. And sure, this movie does happen in a barely alternate universe the place Covid-19 occurred however Seattle can also be being roiled by political protests about legal guidelines to restrict the actions of the unhoused, so maybe on this world there have been main developments in at-home DIY coloring, however c’mon.
One other distraction: Why is Angela so wealthy? She is a glorified content material moderator, but she lives in a sprawling Seattle loft like some kind of modern-day Frasier Crane. There’s an offhand remark that her father helped her renovate, however nonetheless—are we watching a movie a few belief fund child who merely chooses to toil away in a mid-tier (at finest) content material analyst place? In distinction, the CEO of Amygdala, Bradley Hasling (Derek DelGaudio), is proven at first of the film teleconferencing from a makeshift workspace in his storage. Why doesn’t this man have a house workplace? It’s 12 months three of the pandemic, and he’s within the C-suite! If this had been, say, a Nancy Meyers movie, we may shrug off the unusual setting selections. However Soderbergh is often fairly tuned in to class distinctions.
Angela is inexplicable, which isn’t the identical as complicated. She’s distrustful and cautious, but additionally guilelessly listens to her bosses after they inform her to not put something in writing and to return into the workplace somewhat than alert authorities. Her agoraphobia offers Soderbergh an excuse to deploy some music-video-style shaky-cam when she lastly does enterprise out into the streets, nevertheless it in any other case has a tacked-on component, as if the unique draft of the screenplay received notes that its protagonist wanted extra obstacles to beat than unsavory tech overlords gunning for her life. Her romance together with her neighbor likewise feels injected into the film as an try to verify off a field.