Genre: Science Fiction Drama
Directors: Kibwe Tavares, Daniel Kaluuya
Starring: Kane Robinson, Jedi Banerman, Hope Ikpoku Jr., Teyah Cabes, Demi Ladipo, Ian Wright
Release Year: 2024
London, the near future. Amidst numerous developments and already operational luxurious buildings, there is a poor residential complex known as “The Kitchen.” It consists mainly of a dark-skinned population that adamantly refuses to leave their homes, despite the government’s total gentrification in favor of all-conquering capitalism.
Constantly surrounded by police drones, which occasionally become targets of local hoodlums’ antics, the complex experiences frequent utility service outages and cannot offer comfortable living conditions to its residents. Moreover, it is subject to constant police raids, forcing some residents to leave. Despite these grim circumstances, life thrives here, with a sense of unity prevailing, and an irreverent radio host broadcasting without a care.
Izzy lives in one of the local shacks and works at an eco-friendly funeral bureau. He plans to leave “The Kitchen” soon and move into a nice apartment with a view of the London Eye. However, his life takes an unexpected turn when he meets 12-year-old Benji, whose mother recently passed away. It seems that Izzy has a shared history with her, and their encounter could significantly impact the loner’s life.
“The Kitchen” marks the debut feature film for British director and architect Kibwe Tavares and the well-known actor Daniel Kaluuya, recognized for his roles in various Hollywood films, including those directed by Jordan Peele. The influence of Peele is evident, as behind the futuristic setting lies a distinct social subtext. Additionally, there is an attempt, to some extent, to make a mark in the territory of Mathieu Kassovitz and Spike Lee. Michael Fassbender is one of the producers.
Unlike Peele, Tavares and Kaluuya in their dystopian narrative do not attempt to disguise any hidden message or deliver social satire overtly. While social commentaries are evident, at times, they seem to give way too sharply to the central dramatic story of Izzy and Benji. These two essentially strangers, possibly even father and son, find each other by chance and, along with it, perhaps the meaning of life.
The narrative unfolds leisurely, and the sci-fi component serves as nothing more than an auxiliary means to develop an extremely grounded drama. The film lacks a clearly defined conflict, as the systematic clashes between “The Kitchen” residents and the police are unlikely to reach that status. The main conflicts occur within the characters.
Thus, “The Kitchen” is certainly not just another entertaining weekend premiere on Netflix. Currently, this is a good thing, as the weekly supply of monotonous clichéd plots risks causing overdose (and even a detrimental effect, as perceived by the author of these lines, but let’s not dwell on the gloomy). This film, excuse the pun, is thoroughly gloomy in every sense, far from the ambitions of entertaining the viewer, thereby adding a bit of variety to Netflix’s colorful catalog of novelties.
The drama in Tavares and Kaluuya’s work, with the collaboration of screenwriter Joe Murtagh (“London Gangs,” “Woman in the Wall”), is not emotional but surprisingly restrained.
The lion’s share of the emotions of the main characters is felt intuitively, without words. This allows one to follow their actions and relationships with a certain interest but often keeps the observer mostly detached. Some may find this sufficient, while others may not appreciate it.
Lead actor Kane Robinson, also known as the British rapper and songwriter Kano, maintains a consistently mournful expression throughout the entire film, but it is fitting. Young Jedi Banerman, who portrays a teenager with a tragic fate, is particularly impressive. English footballer Ian Wright, a former player for Arsenal, West Ham, and the England national team, can also be spotted in a role as an ironic radio host.
Western critics unanimously announce that the creators have successfully voiced a poignant statement regarding housing issues in the UK, but one can also find relevant themes for other audiences. Essentially, the beleaguered Kitchen is the same as Ukraine, trying to overcome a ruthless enemy to build something of its own on blood and ruins. Despite blackouts, continuous drones in the sky, missile attacks, our society continues to function. To work and live, as much as possible.
“The Kitchen” will likely disappoint fans of purely science fiction cinema since, while the genre is well-executed in the film, its presence is limited. The movie can cautiously be recommended to fans not so much of dystopias but of meditative dramas, where the endlessly sad gaze of the characters speaks louder than any words.
Netflix finally delivers not just another clichéd weekend release, but the proposed alternative may not appeal to everyone either.