Friday, February 2, 2024

Review: The Kitchen

The directorial debut from Daniel Kaluuya is a human-focused sci-fi dystopia that examines what happens when people are pushed to the limit. (No spoilers)

In 2044 London, a group of residents occupy a housing district called the Kitchen, which is under constant police attacks that seek to push them out for gentrification. Utilities are turned off, raids are frequent, and there's a palpable claustrophobic pressure creeping in around them all of the time. They could lose their lives — or their homes — at any time.  And for these individuals, there's nowhere else to go.

If this doesn't sound that far-fetched, it's because it's not, which is why the themes of displacement, brutality, and poverty feel so real throughout the film.

Izi, our main character, dreams of escaping the Kitchen, and has saved enough money to finally escape and rent a sparkling clean and sterile, Black Mirror-esque new apartment in a better part of the city.

By day, he works at a funeral home that specializes in turning a loved one's cremains into pots that nourish a fledgling tree. But not rich people — it's usually those of lesser means. Early on, we see him convince a poor old man that after death, he'll be able to "put up roots." The irony of this statement stings, as the poor citizens of London are deprived of this throughout their actual lives. 

One day while working, he attends a funeral for a woman he once knew, and he discovers her son, the lone attendant at the ceremony. Something cracks inside of him, and the relationship between Izi and young Benji becomes the emotional heart of the movie. Surrogate parent-and-child-type stories have been done a million times in movies throughout the years, but this one feels very real.

Life in the Kitchen

Benji is not just being looked after by Izi — he's also being courted by a motorcycle street gang. As he adventures with both groups, we get a glimpse into life in the Kitchen, which is brilliant, vibrant, and full of life, but also danger. 

The Kitchen is full of pulsing neon signs, open-air jerk chicken stalls interspersed among holographic barber shops, and buzzing underground dance halls. 

No one wants to live here, it seems, but despite this there is a heartfelt community. When the inevitable police raids come, and they come often, 10 floors of neighbors stick pots out of the windows and bang a cacophony of pots as a warning. When a neighbor dies, countless arms stick out burning torches of tribute, a moving scene of solidarity in an urban environment.

Binding everyone together in this community is the Lord Kitchener, the de facto mayor of the Kitchen who broadcasts from a radio studio the daily news, inspirational messages, and cool-as-shit vinyl records bearing the hits of Fela Kuti (a groundbreaking 20th-century Nigerian guitarist) and the like. He's played by Ian Wright, a famous English footballer who played for Arsenal in the 90s.

Not Your Average Dystopia Film

The Kitchen doesn't have a grand climax, a villain who's ever identified, or rousing speeches against the dysfunctional way of life. Instead, we get to see the effects of an oppressive government writ micro — and it's truly fascinating and touching.

In many ways, it reminded me of Andor, the recent Star Wars television show that sought to show the effects of the Galactic Empire on everyday folks. In both, people aren't targeted every day, but just frequently enough to plant the seeds of rebellion. 

As we follow Izi and Benji and watch them navigate life under the watchful eye of police drones and raids, we see just how unfair and dehumanizing the quest for government-sanctioned theft of real estate can be. 

People can only take so much — rebelling against inequality is always bound to happen.


The Math

Baseline Score: 7/10

Bonuses: The cinematography is stellar. The characters are believable and human. Football fans will go gaga over Ian Wright as the charismatic DJ, the Lord Kitchener.

Penalties: It's an extremely slow movie, but if you give it the time to breathe, it's rewarding.

POSTED BY: Haley Zapal, new NoaF contributor and lawyer-turned-copywriter living in Atlanta, Georgia. A co-host of Hugo Award-winning podcast Hugo, Girl!, she posts on Instagram as @cestlahaley. She loves nautical fiction, growing corn and giving them pun names like Timothee Chalamaize, and thinking about fried chicken.