KIMI in the Window by David Buckley
Here are two films with the same premise. The first is about a redhead who won’t leave her home and the second is about a blue-haired girl with the same agoraphobic condition. Each woman manages to witness a murder without being physically present at the scene. They report the crimes they witness, but their stories are met with apathy, suspicion and doubt.
The second film works. The first one doesn’t. Why?
Let’s begin with the film that flops. Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window stars Amy Adams as Dr. Anna Fox – an agoraphobic child psychologist who spends her free time spying on the neighbors and mixing prescription pills with glass after glass of red wine.
Through a series of unexpected drop-ins, Anna befriends teenage neighbor Ethan (played by Fred Hechinger), and later his mother Jane (played by Julianne Moore). One night, Anna hears a commotion and looks out the window to witness Jane being brutally murdered by her husband Alistair (played by Gary Oldman). Or so we’re led to believe…
The film’s central mystery is that Jane is seen alive and well shortly after her alleged killing. Only this time, she appears, not as Julianne Moore, but as Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Who did Anna really befriend? Was it conspiracy or hallucination? At the end of the day, you don’t know and you don’t care.
When everyone dismisses Anna as an unreliable witness, we (the audience) are inclined to agree. That’s all thanks to an earlier scene in which an exasperated therapist warns Anna that mixing her pills with alcohol will cause hallucinations. In other words, the audience isn’t fully invested in discovering what happened to Jane, because we saw Jane’s murder through Anna’s eyes – a character the film sets up as totally unreliable from the start.
Every protagonist needs a flaw, but when it comes to murder mystery the audience must 100% believe the murder happened.
Contrast Anna’s flaws in The Woman in the Window with those of Angela Childs’ in Steven Soderbergh’s new film KIMI. Angela (played by Zoë Kravitz) is by no means a picture of perfect mental health, but her flaws strengthen the plot without discrediting the character.
Angela works remotely for a tech company that manufactures a virtual assistant named KIMI. If you’ve ever used Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, surely you’ve stumped the computer at least once. In real life, virtual assistants use machine learning to optimize their interactions with us human masters. But in the film, KIMI employs human tech workers like Angela to sift through hours of flagged conversations that went awry. The workers review the recordings and help KIMI learn by adding context to the word or phrase the computer didn’t understand.
Agoraphobia isn’t Angela’s only flaw. Whether she’s brushing her teeth or meticulously changing the sheets after rendezvousing with a boyfriend, Angela’s OCD is on constant display. But so too is her desire to be normal. We see Angela optimistically schedule a breakfast date, shower, dress and gather her things, only to flake last minute after experiencing a panic attack as soon as she reaches for the door knob.
Angela’s fear and her desire to overcome it make the plot all the more gripping – especially after Angela hears a recording of an unknown woman’s sexual assault and subsequent murder. Those recordings jettison Angela out the door to embark on a classic hero’s journey, which ends with a thrilling “High Tower Surprise” that’s a cross between Die Hard and Home Alone.
Soderbergh’s KIMI also depicts an extremely believable post-COVID world filled with cloth masks, digital surveillance and copious amounts of hand sanitizer. We see C-suite executives conducting Zoom interviews in their sweatpants. We also see others like Angela who can’t quite work up the courage to let go of their COVID-era isolation.
What catalyst moment will compel these lonesome holdouts to finally give in, return to normal and again confront the world? KIMI ends on a hopeful note that suggests it won’t be the latest protest, Marvel movie or presidential declaration that pushes them out the door, but rather mankind’s innate desire to look out for each other.