The Kitchen (2023, dirs. Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Tavares)

by | Jan 19, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 107 mins

UK Distributor: Netflix

UK Release Date: 19 January 2024

WHO’S IN THE KITCHEN?

Kane Robinson, Jedaiah Bannerman, Hope Ikpoku Jr, Teija Kabs, Demmy Ladipo, Cristale, BackRoad Gee, Dani Moseley, Harvey Quinn, Henry Lawfull, Lola-Rose Maxwell, Richie Lawrie, Alan Asaad, Fiona Marr, Rasaq Kukoyi

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Daniel Kaluuya (director, writer, producer), Kibwe Tavares (director), Joe Murtagh (writer), Daniel Emmerson (producer), Wyatt Garfield (cinematographer), Maya Maffioli and Christian Sandino-Taylor (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In the near-future, the community of London’s last remaining social housing take a stand…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE KITCHEN?

[This is a slightly re-edited version of our review for The Kitchen from its showing at the BFI London Film Festival]

Before he broke out big time with Get Out and his Oscar-winning turn in Judas and the Black Messiah, Daniel Kaluuya was perhaps best known to international audiences for an early episode of Black Mirror, titled Fifteen Million Merits. That episode of Charlie Brooker’s anthology series saw Kaluuya grapple with a dystopian future laced with inequalities, as well as a bleak outlook on the exploitation of the working-class by those with the power to get away with it.

With The Kitchen, Kaluuya comes full circle with his directorial debut (a credit shared with co-director Kibwe Tavares) that often feels like something straight out of Brooker’s warped anthology, at times too much so, but has enough heart and humanity to feel like its own thing as well.

The film is set in a futuristic London where almost every borough has been gentrified, except for one area known as “the Kitchen”, where the predominantly working-class civilians proudly call home, despite the pressure to vacate the premises by the powers that be. It is also where our main character, Izi (Kane Robinson), lives somewhat begrudgingly, and is eager to move out of the Kitchen and into a fancier new flat as soon as he can, one that’s closer to his work as an attendant at a funeral home, which specialises in turning people’s ashes into compost to grow a memorial plant from. Here, he encounters young teen Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman), who is grieving the loss of his mother whom Izi happened to know briefly, and he offers to take the lost lad under his wing and become a de facto father figure as both of them get sucked into the criminal underworld of the Kitchen, and the brutal law enforcement that regularly shows up to beat the residents into submission.

In bringing the vastly overpopulated world of The Kitchen to life, Kaluuya – who also co-wrote the script with Joe Murtagh – shows a keen eye for world-building as he effortlessly weaves in and out of this dystopian landscape with impeccable ease. The Kitchen itself is like a mix between the dreary neon-drenched future of Blade Runner, and the somewhat grotesque landscapes of Dredd or Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall, with undertones of less-obvious British sci-fi flicks like Brazil and even A Clockwork Orange.

Meanwhile, the rest of this gentrified London is like stepping into an entirely different universe, one that is certainly slicker designed but with very little of the charm or personality coming from the Kitchen, which by comparison is popping with multicultural life at every available angle. Kaluuya and Tavares giddily explore this strange world while tapping into the very real socio-economical issues lying underneath it, which are fairly obvious takeaways that are nonetheless handled with a strong sense of morality that the directors flaunt at all times.

Carrying this extensive world-building is a fairly standard story about two lost souls bonding with each other in a society that is always seeking to pull them apart, and while it is once again executed pretty well this is where The Kitchen feels a little less clever than its other qualities. It’s clear early on that there is a deeper connection between Kane Robinson’s Izi and Jedaiah Bannerman’s troubled Benji than just simply being the stand-in father figure, which is all but confirmed much later in the film, well after the viewer has sussed out how exactly they may be linked in more ways than one.

Both Robinson and Bannerman are likeable actors, injecting enough empathy into their respective parts to make them feel real and relatable in their emotional struggles, but the script they’re working with sticks rather closely to the set template that makes certain aspects of their individual arcs a bit more predictable. By the time it begins to wrap things up, you hardly feel that these two characters have made a truly meaningful connection for it to end on the note that it does, because while they spend a number of scenes together, there’s not been enough depth to their developing relationship outside of a number of the familiar beats that it doesn’t fail to hit.

Since the world-building is quite ambitious, not to mention impressively realised by some subtle effects work, The Kitchen is a commendable filmmaking debut for both Kaluuya and Tavares, who show great potential in creating vast and interesting worlds for the glory of the silver screen. From a storytelling aspect, though, they need to take better chances with some of the more familiar strands, because while the execution is certainly solid it doesn’t quite take away the fact that most of what is shown here has been told in many other films like this.

As soon as they find a story to match their practical ambitions, then this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Kitchen is an ambitious directorial debut for Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Tavares, who create an interesting dystopian world to explore and get lost in, but a familiar narrative concerning its two lead characters makes it feel less substantial than its overall style.

Three out of five stars

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