Travis Leamons // Film Critic
You have to hand it to Steven Soderbergh. Unlike Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola, both of whom come across as “old man yells at cloud” claiming superhero movies not to be cinema, the 59-year-old Soderbergh coolly acknowledges that he’s not approached to direct one. He’s not a snob about Hollywood’s current obsession with the blockbuster genre; he’s just too earthbound a guy to get into that type of universe. Also, the characters don’t engage in coitus.
That’s not to say we need our heroes to have sex for it to be an emotionally engaging experience, which is funny because Soderbergh’s latest film revolves around Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz), a socially awkward agoraphobic. Our character’s universe is small, but she still manages to have sex. That would be to the good-looking guy (Byron Bowers) who lives across the street. Though I’m not sure it’s actually a relationship if it’s him coming over to her place, them having sex, and Angela making him leave afterward. But all of that is superfluous to what KIMI really is: a lean, paranoid thriller that pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW and Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION.
Soderbergh, who switches between genres like a teenage girl trying to decide what to wear to school, is unafraid to take risks and experiment. In the past few years, he shot a movie with an iPhone (UNSANE), on a cruise ship during a pandemic (LET THEM ALL TALK), did a sports drama (HIGH FLYING BIRD), and most recently a 1960s-set crime thriller (NO SUDDEN MOVE).
His latest is a great starring vehicle for Kravitz. With blue hair as her trademark and an orange hoodie as her suit of armor, Kravitz’s Angela joins the likes of Rooney Mara (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) and Angelina Jolie (HACKERS) as alluring badasses behind the wheel of a computer mouse. Angela’s comfort zone is her apartment and her computer, which serve as her office and occupation. She’s a voice stream interpreter for Amygdala Corp., a tech company that makes a smart device called Kimi. Say “Kimi?” and the device replies, “I’m here.” Then ask it to perform an action and Kimi complies. Kimi’s accuracy isn’t 100-percent, and Angela’s job is to listen through hundreds of misinterpreted or misunderstood actions and questions to help the device’s AI be smarter and more intuitive.
Not exactly a dream job, but comfortable enough for someone who isn’t a people person. At least, face to face. No, Angela is more of a lookie-loo; she watches the activities below on the street and the building she faces with passing interest. And when she isn’t watching, she’s listening. When Angela hears a muffled recording during one of her tech support sessions, she isolates the sounds and believes to have ear-witnessed a violent assault. However, the corporate suits don’t seem too concerned when one of their employees claims to have evidence of a crime.
The back and forth between Angela and an Amygdala Corp. suit (Rita Wilson) during one scene is an impressive interplay. It’s like coming across a nature documentary only the animals are a Boomer and a Millennial. The scene is made more impressive as Angela has mustered the courage to journey beyond her walls to the outside world. The way Soderbergh shoots frenetically as she moves down the corridor and stairwell of her building to lingering afar as Kravitz sticks close to the walls on the street level is exceptional.
With Angela treading too closely to the truth, she becomes an employee worth liquidating. Trying to stay ahead of the badmen and figuring out who to trust (like what’s up with the guy across the street looking at her with binoculars?) gives KIMI a nice mix of paranoia and perils with technology. If it weren’t for Soderbergh’s name as director, this could easily be a new addition to Charlie Brooker’s BLACK MIRROR anthology series. As it stands, it is a cool little gem from a master filmmaker.
Not to be confused with Wes Craven’s CURSED (2005), which also happens to be a werewolf movie, Sean Ellis’ THE CURSED (originally titled EIGHT FOR SILVER) is better than its generic-sounding title would imply. It’s not cleverly innovative by any means, but Ellis changes a few ingredients to make it feel different than the werewolves we’re used to seeing.
For starters, most of the action occurs in fog and mist and not under the light of a full moon. Our creature still has sharp fangs to tear into flesh as its looks to maim and murder, and silver is still a weakness. But once the curse takes effect, the monster never regains human form until a sacrificial intervention.
The opening prologue takes us into the throes of World War I and a French officer being stretchered into a medical tent after being wounded by German soldiers. As the doctor removes the bullets, he discovers one not German-made. We then flashback to the early 1880s and a provincial estate in rural France. When the landowner, Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie), authorizes the extermination of a group of Bedouin gypsies that claim the land as theirs, a curse is unleashed. Laurent’s children and neighboring siblings begin having nightmares until they are drawn to an erected scarecrow left to warn those who trespass on the grounds. Seamus’s son is brutally attacked and disappears. Soon after that, more deaths occur. Wounds indicate they were caused by a wolf that lurks in the surrounding forest.
Pathologist John McBride’s (Boyd Holbrook) passage through town seems innocuous, though he quickly makes his reasons clear with a tale too tall to be believed. But he has the proof to back up his claims. To end the curse, John must find the monster before it kills the Laurents or infects others to become part of the wolfpack.
Much like what Robert Eggers accomplished with THE WITCH, Sean Ellis builds on legend and superstitions by which the situations depicted appear plausible in such a small, primitive setting. Directing and lensing the scenes himself, Ellis creates a terrible aura with enough bloody violence to satisfy gorehounds who would otherwise be turned off by period horror. This helps to offset the poorly developed supporting characters, including Kelly Reilly as the matriarch, Isabelle. Even John’s tragic past is a story contrivance, an effort to make him more human while at the same time fueling his reasons to slay the creature.
THE CURSED encounters expected horror genre pitfalls, but it remains mostly atypical with its subject. The atmosphere over jump scares, building terror while not overexposing the creature, and it remains a slow-burn until an explosive climax.
Don’t let the generic title scare you away—Sean Ellis’ latest howls.