Even though the world of entertainment often benefits capitalist institutions, it has been the hub of anti-capitalist movies and shows. Spike Lee talked about gentrification in Do The Right Thing. Bernard Rose and Nia DaCosta veered into the horror genre to comment on the same via Candyman (yes, both of their films have the same name). Carlos López Estrada showed the everlasting impact of witnessing police brutality in Blindspotting. In Avatar, James Cameron imagined a future where humans were colonizing other planets because they had made Earth practically unlivable. Ridley Scott and Denis Villeneuve questioned the very meaning of humanity when capitalism has consumed everything in their respective Blade Runner films. Boots Riley has channeled his thoughts on capitalism, racism, and gentrification through Sorry to Bother You and I’m A Virgo. Netflix itself has distributed three films on the aforementioned topics—Wendell & Wild, Day Shift, and They Cloned Tyrone—and now they are here with another one in the form of The Kitchen.
Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Tavares’ The Kitchen, which Kaluuya has co-written with Joe Murtagh, is set in the titular locality, which is filled with people from the minority communities of England as well as immigrants. Water is scarce. Police raid the place regularly and arrest the people they can get their hands on. And the Lord Kitchener, probably a homage to Samuel L. Jackson’s Mister Señor Love Daddy from Do The Right Thing, tries to keep the mood light with his tunes, informs the residents about what’s going on in the locality, and motivates everyone to never give in to fascism via his radio show. The protagonist of the movie is Izi. He lives in The Kitchen and works at a facility called Life After Life, which turns dead people into plants and keeps a spot for them in the garden as long as it’s feasible for the family (which sounds like what the Blanks did to the humans in The World’s End). That’s where he comes across Benji, the son of Toni Clarke, and they form a bond because Benji thinks Izi is his father, and Izi has a sneaking feeling that Benji is his son. However, Benji also begins to gravitate towards the local anarchist, Staples, and his gang, thereby paving the way towards an unclear future.
Murtagh and Kaluuya’s script of The Kitchen oscillates between the battle for the titular locality and Benji’s soul. The socio-political aspect of the narrative isn’t new, as it talks about ghettoization, gentrification, capitalism, and police brutality. But I don’t mind the fact that these themes are becoming repetitive in the realm of entertainment because we are already living in a dystopian society. Stories like this aren’t a warning of the future anymore; they’re a reflection. Environmentally speaking, Earth is vulnerable as hell. Humanity is suffering from hunger, poverty, and a lack of basic rights. However, because of some whimsical fascists, as a species, we have apparently prioritized genocide, bigotry, and the deification of said fascists, all of which is being livestreamed on various social media platforms. Much like the people who are facing such atrocities on a daily basis, the characters in the film can simply pick up the pieces and launch small revolutions that eventually amount to nothing. Through Benji’s personal journey, the movie asks why we are still bringing kids into this world when we are absolutely sure that we are leaving nothing but despair and horror in store for them.
The Kitchen takes a multifaceted approach while telling the stories of Izi, Benji, and Staples. When the focus is on Izi, everything from the cinematography (by Wyatt Garfield) to the editing (by Maya Maffioli and Christian Sandino-Taylor) is stable and calm because that’s what the character is trying to achieve amidst all this chaos. When the focus shifts to Staples, things get more grimy, gritty, and jittery, thereby reflecting the unstable nature of his and his gang’s lives. Benji gets to walk between these two styles of visual storytelling, and the technical aspects morph according to what he is feeling. The production design (by Nathan Parker), the art direction, set decoration, costume design, hair and make-up, the VFX, and the special effects are very understated. It feels lived-in, thereby reminding us of the fact that this “future” is not very far away from the “present” that the viewers are living in at the time of watching the movie. The pacing is a little inconsistent. When it slows things down to allow Benji’s complex feelings to breathe, it’s good. When it wants to be propulsive and action-heavy, I don’t think it swings hard enough to be impactful. That is a personal preference, though, and I’m sure there’s an audience for this form of filmmaking.
The performances from the cast of The Kitchen are amazing. To be honest, I went into the film without digging up any information about it. And throughout its 107-minute-long running time, I kept wondering why I was seeing shades of Daniel Kaluuya in Kano, Hope Ikpoku Jnr, and Jedaiah Bannerman’s acting. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he was one of the directors of the film. I mean that as a compliment BTW. There’s something about Izi’s pensiveness and sorrow, Staples’ rebellious and brotherly spirit, and Kano’s innocence and hope that I feel like I have seen in Kaluuya, and Kano, Ikpoku Jnr, and Jedaiah seem to be actively channeling their love for the actor-turned-co-director while infusing their respective characters with their personal traits. Demmy Ladipo, as the only friend in Izi’s life, is great, and so is Olivia-Rose Colliard as Jase’s daughter. That little interaction between Lapido, Colliard, and Kano is really adorable. Ian Wright’s extended cameo is amazing. The movie has a huge supporting cast, and all of them utilize the screen time they get in an efficient and effective fashion. A huge shoutout should also go out to those in charge of the stunts because, without them, the action-heavy scenes wouldn’t have been possible.
The Kitchen is a decent film. It gets its message across about the deterioration of society. The world-building is on point. It is brimming with flavors from various cultures. The acting department is solid. And even though it pales in comparison to some of the greatest sci-fi films and shows that are centered around the topics that Daniel Kaluuya, Kibwe Tavares, and Joe Murtagh are dealing with here, I think it’s a valiant effort to remind people what we should be protecting if we want to survive as a species. Will it reach its target audience, though? I don’t know because I don’t understand the Netflix model. The streaming platform always promotes the blandest movies and shows they have licensed and buries the gems they have in their virtual repository. So, if you are in the mood to watch The Kitchen, you have to type its name in the search bar instead of trusting the algorithm to place it in front of you.