The Kitchen

The Kitchen (dir. Daniel Kaluuya)

By: Adam Freed

First time directors rarely calibrate the delicate mechanism of filmmaking to an extent that produces a balanced and artfully crafted tale that is also thematically rich. With his directorial debut The Kitchen, this is the gauntlet of precision run by Academy Award winning actor Daniel Kaluuya.  Kaluuya (Nope, Judas and the Black Messiah) uses the Netflix release to infuse a dystopian sci fi drama with his uniquely personal story.   As the son of Ugandan immigrants, the young star was raised by his mother and sister in the Camden Town neighborhood of North London.  Kaluuya’s past informs The Kitchen by providing a community voice that treats its ills with a knowing humanity, rather than a fear of the otherness created by societal wealth disparity.   It requires a distinct voice to light the fuse on a thematic bombshell of such tremendous depth and detail, and thankfully this is exactly what The Kitchen has to offer. 

The Kitchen presents shades of Spike Lee’s powerhouse Do the Right Thing (1989) in its depiction and treatment of a community cast aside by outsiders who only view it as an opportunity to drive profit margins.  The film draws its title from the name of the economically depressed London neighborhood occupied primarily by citizens who are products of the African diaspora.  In the not so distant future, residents of The Kitchen are subjected to invasive governmental oversight as police drones buzz endlessly through the sky tasked with keeping an eye on London's neediest population.  The governmental thumb is rendered so broad and oppressively that it harkens to the days of South African apartheid.  What stands out in Kaluuya’s visionary commentary is that despite existing in a constant state of need, as many live without water, there is an unspoken bond that nourishes the neighborhood’s residents.  It is difficult to infuse science fiction with such a rooted consideration of the human condition, and yet it stands as one of the film's greatest successes. This reverential communal bond is illustrated to perfection in times of defiance, but no more so than in times of collective mourning.

The Kitchen aims its narrative on two central characters, the first is Izi, a well meaning thirtysomething in pursuit of a better life beyond the neighborhood.  Izi spends a majority of his waking hours working at a funeral parlor / arboretum that allows for mourners to memorialize their loved ones in the form of a sapling that can then pose as the living embodiment of their evolving grief.  Izi’s employment is a thematic blade that cuts miles deep as it leads him to meet Benji, a young teen tasked with witnessing his mother’s transition from funeral casket to sapling.  The two seem destined for partnership as Benji is a young ship adrift in a sea of grief and Izi is a man left coping with his own lifetime of losses.  By presenting their collective sorrow over loss and their oppressive conditions as a shared burden, The Kitchen reminds audiences that the way out of anguish is best navigated hand in hand and with united hearts.  Daniel Kaluuya daringly risks burying this message within a genre often intentionally void of emotion, yet again strikes the target of impact with ease.  Needless to say, most directors in the embryonic stage of their careers cannot move the emotional and societal needle with such a tactful demonstration of grace.  Most directors aren’t Daniel Kaluuya. 

Target Score: 8/10 - First time director Daniel Kaluuya shifts his Academy Award winning acting career behind the camera in a monumental debut.  The Kitchen maximizes its dystopian London setting to attack with a melee of thematic haymakers landing one after the next.  Kaluuya, in partnering with Netflix will guarantee that a global audience has access to his memorably impactful film.