'The Kitchen' (dir. by Kibwe Tavares + Daniel Kaluuya) Film Review | JG Review
'The Kitchen', dir. Kibwe Tavares and Daniel Kaluuya (108mins) | On Netflix Late 2023
And now...the end is near, and so we face, our final curtain...
I couldn't help but feel a little sad as I sat down to watch The Kitchen, even though the film was one of my most anticipated from the festival. This would mark my eighth and final screening at this year's BFI London Film Festival, through which I rediscovered my love of writing after a hiatus from reviews. It's no secret that my blog has gone under-loved in the past few years. My three or four loyal readers were left starved as my quarter-life crisis and postgraduate jollies saw me distracted from JG Review, and for a while I was genuinely unsure if my old love of writing would return back to me—perhaps a symptom of dissertation burnout.
Alas, during a long conversation in St. Katherine's Dock earlier this year with my brother, I was encouraged to carve out more time for the things I used to enjoy, even if I was unsure whether they'd still satisfy me just as they once did. It was a conversation that prompted me to return to the BFI and ask them for 2023 accreditation, and it has led me to this very moment with you (hopefully you're having fun?).
This festival has been fairly exhausting. I caught a brutal flu, had to wake up at 6am for multiple weekends in a row on top of my 9-5, and I've spent an ungodly amount of money on McMuffins. Still, covering this festival felt a little like coming home. I think it's evident in my writing how much I've appreciated even the smallest parts of this experience, and I hope I get to continue my JG Review journey long past this tenth anniversary mark.
So, The Kitchen.
This film comes from co-directors Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Tavares, two Black British Londoners whose filmographies have already dealt with the layered complexities of systemic racism. Tavares' debut, a sci-fi animated short called Robots of Brixton, applies an afro-futurist lens to the Brixton race riots of the 1980s; Kaluuya is perhaps best known for his role in the horror-satire Get Out, which became an instant classic as soon as it hit our screens. The pair have joined forces to create The Kitchen, a high-octane, dystopian drama that grapples with gentrification and the brutality of London's racial and economic inequity (social divisions which have only become more sombre under a decade of Conservative leadership). Their directorial collaboration delivers an urgent, provocative and engaging glimpse into an uncomfortable could-be future, as if they're begging the world to change course while resigned to their feared-future's ultimate inevitability.
The film is mostly successful. Musician and Top Boy alum Kano stars as Izi, our protagonist, who's saving up to afford a private flat so that he can leave the crumbling shanty-block where he lives, dubbed 'The Kitchen' by its residents. It's one of several conglomerate barrios which dot this London skyline, though these have been increasingly targeted by police raids with the aim of evicting the working class residents and seizing the land for private investment. 'The Kitchen' is one of the oldest and largest, encouraging a strong community spirit in spite of the low living conditions it provides, but Izi's aspirations for a luxe lifestyle sees him tempted to join the financially-exploitative rental market (he's been saving for months when we meet him). When Izi discovers he has a son while attending the funeral of an old flame, he is forced to reconsider the relationship he has with his home, his community, and the system which beats him down.
Kano is striking on camera, and brings charisma and gravitas to Izi even in spite of the character's emotional walls; 'The Kitchen' should propel the actor toward greater opportunities off the back of his performance here. Child actor Jedaiah Bannerman steals the show, however, and is fantastic in his emotional performance as Benji—Izi's son. An inferior performance might leave the role feeling hollow, but the warmth and humour that Bannerman brings to the role, along with the script's knack for constantly dangling the character just in reach of grave danger, ensures not only that we genuinely care for Benji, but find ourselves genuinely engaged with the philosophical questions that his character's presence posits.
Despite an assumedly humble budget, The Kitchen is also pretty handsome. A lot of this is down to the fact the film was shot entirely on-location; sequences are shot in The Barbican, Cambridge Heath, Covent Garden and so on. It can sometimes be fun as a Londoner to recognise these locations when they pop up in other films, but the too-close-for-comfort subject matter made these recognitions feel uncanny and unnerving instead. The city's skyline appears mostly identical to ours today, bar one or two CGI skyscrapers which have been erected in the world of this dystopia. We also see some eerily well-realised CGI Met Police drones, which swarm the shanty-blocks like metal mosquitos begging for blood. Practical effects are used to round out this futuristic experience; Izi's bike (pictured above) is distinctly ultra-modern, but still feels grounded and realistic so as to avoid veering too far into Dark Knight territory. This choice to shoot on-location, combined with the success of these visual effects, ensures this dystopia is grounded in a realism that heightens the film's eerie atmosphere and solidifies the real-life threat propounded by the 2030s London we see on screen.
The Kitchen falters, ultimately, in its length. I can imagine a 90 minute edit of this flick which feels sharper and more biting as a result of its condensation, but as it stands this film is let down by a sense of mild bloating, bogged down by its attempt to balance both its wider socio-political focus on 'The Kitchen' and its commitment to Izi's emotional journey. Still, The Kitchen is a sometimes-thrilling, successful contemplation on social tensions which, if untended to, could well spiral into the chaos that dominates this disturbing vision of our collective future. The Kitchen is the latest in a line of genre releases that grapple with race in the west (see: Get Out, Lovecraft Country, Atlanta, Nope, etc), and admittedly lacks the pizzaz which makes those projects so great; nevertheless, this is certainly a worthy addition to this emergent canon of Black cinema.
Written by James Green