31 Jan 2024

Review: The Kitchen

From Widescreen, 3:24 pm on 31 January 2024

The Kitchen is a dystopian future movie that is all about the here and now, Dan Slevin says.

Still from the 2023 Netflix dystopian drama The Kitchen.

Photo: Netflix

When the story of the Golden Age of streaming is written – not too far away now, I think – one of the chapters will have to be about the prevalence of the dystopian thriller, the unhappy future we are destined for, and why it was that giant tech companies thought audiences would appreciate their warnings of tech-inflected nightmares to come.

The latest predictor of an unhappy and alienated future – paid for by Netflix who have a market capitalisation at time of writing of US$243.58billion – is The Kitchen which paints a picture of a London where the only thing that matters is property rights and where ordinary people live lives of desperate precarity, waiting to be moved on from their homes so developers can ‘add value’ for the upper and middle class.

Still from the 2023 dystopian Netflix feature film The Kitchen.

Photo: Netflix

“The Kitchen” is a London housing estate, what might have been called a slum back in the day, threatened with redevelopment that would see all the current residents evicted. As the film goes on, we realise that this is one of the last estates – that there will be nowhere for this community to go – and that the State only has eyes for the property owners who will inhabit the new apartments that are to go on to the site.

It's not clear whether the Kitchen residents are squatters in the old terminology – the place looks damaged beyond repair – or whether they pay rent to a uninterested landlord. At least one resident – Izi played by Kane Robinson – has almost saved enough for a legal apartment elsewhere thanks to his job in a modern funeral home that swaps the deceased for saplings, and a business model that requires constant upkeep of those young trees by the bereaved.

At his job he meets a young boy, Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman), who has just lost his mother and has no one to care for him. Against his better judgement – and perhaps for other reasons – he takes the boy to the Kitchen. The questions becomes, is there a future for them, either together or apart.

Still from the 2023 Netflix dystopian feature film The Kitchen.

Photo: Netflix

Co-written and co-directed by the great Afro-Caribbean actor Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), the film does fantastic job of showing us a community, a community that will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in the cultural melting pot of modern London. It’s not clear why this community has to be destroyed, apart from the value of the land that they live on.

Kaluuya’s co-creator is Kibwe Tavares, an architect as well as a filmmaker, and the eye that film has on the built environment – the decrepit and decaying as well as the shiny and empty – is another strength. The glimpses we get of ‘normal’ people are enough to show us that, in this world, inequality has been baked in to all of the social norms.

We also discover that izi and Benji have history but that history might not be enough for them both to survive the storm that’s coming.

A notable supporting player is the great English football player and pundit Ian Wright in a role reminiscent of Samuel L. Jackson in Do the Right Thing, an almost omniscient radio announcer, playing the tunes and providing the commentary for a community that would be doing just fine, thank you, if it was left alone to get on with things.

The Kitchen is rated 13 according to Netflix’s own system and is streaming on Netflix now.