Credit: Chris Harris/Netflix
by Dhruv Goyal Featured Film Streaming Scene

The Kitchen — Kibwe Tavares & Daniel Kaluuya

January 19, 2024

Any new dystopian science fiction release on Netflix — TV show, live-action film, animation, short, whatever — emanates a deep sense of foreboding. This isn’t just because we see the red “N” logo and hear the infamous “Ta-Dum” sound. It’s because we fear trudging through another iteration or, worse still, replication of the streaming site’s flagship dystopian science-fiction show, Black Mirror, which has been, at best, conceptually sound and dramatically inert and, at worst, both conceptually and dramatically inept. The Kitchen, co-directed by Black Mirror alum Daniel Kaluuya (best known for his star-making roles in Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Nope) and architect-turned-filmmaker Kibwe Tavares, is, thankfully, devoid of the one-note pessimism that has proven Black Mirror’s staple. Instead, though, it relies too much on a counteracting utopianism that, admirable as it is, blunts much of the dramatic tension that ought to emerge from its classic “us versus them” narrative.

The focus for Kaluuya and Tavares is squarely on the “us,” or as English soccer-star-turned-impressive-voice orator Ian Wright (as the “Lord Kitchener”) says, “we.” Most of the film’s narrative takes place in and around “The Kitchen” — a multi-cultural community living in harmony in dystopian future London where all social housing has been eliminated. As a collective, they refuse to abandon their homes, convinced that their way of life is more human and humane than “they” (the government, property builders, private property owners, and technology) could ever provide. The one person who doesn’t believe so is our protagonist, Izi (Kane Robinson). He’s the quintessential lonely man character, so detached from the “we” around him that he sees “I” and only I: he wants to move out from the “shithole” of “The Kitchen” to the pristine cleanliness of the Bueno Vide Apartments.

Like everyone in “The Kitchen,” the filmmakers see Izi’s desire as inherently wrong. So rather than try to genuinely engage with our protagonist’s reasons for disassociating from his community, the film takes every opportunity to push him closer to them. The primary one comes via Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman), an impressionable teenager reeling from the loss of his mother, who also happened to share a relationship with Izi. Our hero, then, becomes not only a neglectful community member, but also an irresponsible father. So, the arc that presents itself to Izi is to embrace Benji and, through that, realize the value of embracing the “we” of both family and community.

It’s a prescribed realization, though, devoid of any form of interrogation or exploration. No problems within different factions of “The Kitchen” seem to arise when food and water supply is cut short; differing employment and income levels between people have little to no impact; gender and race vectors seem entirely irrelevant. This isn’t a believable utopia, then, but a magical one that Kaluuya and Tavares, with the help of cinematographer Wyatt Garfield and production designer Nathan Parker, occasionally transform into an Afrofuturist styled mini-paradise of vibrant music, sweltering dances, and resolute solidarity. But its ineffective placement within the film’s otherwise grounded dystopian world leaves viewers consistently questioning its legitimacy and believability.

DIRECTOR: Kibwe Tavares & Daniel Kaluuya;  CAST: Kane Robinson, Jedaiah Bannerman, Henry Lawfull;  DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix;  STREAMING: January 19;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 48 min.