The Malta Independent 14 April 2024, Sunday
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Daniel Kaluuya builds a compelling near-future dystopia in 'The Kitchen'

Associated Press Wednesday, 21 February 2024, 14:47 Last update: about 3 months ago

The near-future is bleak for the working class of London in "The Kitchen," a well-executed film about a familiar kind of urban dystopian nightmare. It is, ironically, sunnier than the Los Angeles of "Blade Runner," but the mood is as dire.

In this world, the have-nots are crammed together in hellish Brutalist high-rises, a slum-like development that its residents call "The Kitchen." With frequent police raids and constant monitoring, there is the whiff of rebellion in the air. But at least for the purposes of this story, tensions have not yet boiled over into a proper revolution — the rage is manifested in smaller, petty crimes, like a smash-and-grab jewelry raid.

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Our protagonist Izy (rapper Kane Robinson) has a stable job, selling "eco" and "humane" burial plans to the desperate, grieving poor. Everything is whitewashed and slick and just a little sinister there — it's called "life after life" after all. He and his colleagues wear clinical scrubs as they sell people on the idea of turning their deceased loved ones into plants.

He also has a plan: To get out. He's saved enough money to escape The Kitchen and has finally broken through the logjam of a waitlist to get into one of the luxury apartment buildings in town. A single occupancy for a single guy. Naturally the film won't let him go that easy, but the complication isn't just financial: A kid enters the picture.

One day at work he notices that a woman he once dated is being given a funeral on the premises. Inside, he discovers her son Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman), a teen who doesn't know who his father is. The two dance around the obvious question, and Benji ends up on Izy's doorstep in need of something — help, lodging, care — but again, these things go largely unspoken. Benji is at a sliding doors kind of moment in which the fast cash from the dangerous smash-and-grabs seems almost worth the risk. What does he have to lose anyway?

"The Kitchen" was directed by "Get Out's" Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Tavares, who has turned his gaze before on the intersection of architecture, race and class in "Robots of Brixton." Kaluuya co-wrote the script with Joe Murtagh, inspired out of a story he heard about "kids doing million-dollar heists in a minute for £200." "The Kitchen" may lag at times, but it's an astonishing and fully realized feat for two first-time feature directors with beautifully raw sequences of both emotion and action.

It is quite a pleasure to watch Izy and Benji navigate this awkward relationship, both wondering how much they should trust one another. But in this world of urban isolation it's clear, at least to us, that they need each other — no matter how much you're rooting for Izy to make it out. There are also moments of humor in this rather serious affair, including Izy's frustrating conversation with an AI customer service representative.

Like so many futuristic dystopias, "The Kitchen" is really about the present — about class divides and wealth gaps and unaffordable housing and the ways in which it's all getting worse so quickly. This is one of those films that would have been fun on the big screen with its urgent action sequences and propulsive nightclub scenes, but it's a perfect small-screen watch, too. And, hopefully, the beginning of a big directing career for Kaluuya and Tavares, who have proved that they have something worthwhile to say and the vision to make it entertaining as well.

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