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Home > ‘The Kitchen’ (2023): A Review

‘The Kitchen’ (2023): A Review

"The Kitchen" stars Kano, Jedaiah Bannerman, and Hope Ikpoku and is available to stream on Netflix.

Dystopian Black Sci-Fi with a Heart

Love stories aren’t always about romance. Essentially, they’re about a meeting that changes the course of lives, the course of love, tortuous and rocky, and a happy or tragic ending. The Kitchen (2023) is a special but imperfect dystopian science fiction film about mostly black people squatting in social housing in London, England, in 2044. It’s a cautionary tale that’s sketchily about the potential future extremities of race and class in urban Britain. But the heart of The Kitchen is the relationship between Izi (Kane Robinson) and the boy who may be his son, Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman). They meet by chance at Benji’s mother’s wake while Izi is working at Life After Life, an alternative funeral service. Izi recognizes Toni. She’s told Benji that his father resides in The Kitchen, a nonprofit social housing apartment complex for low-income residents, and Benji has seen Izi there. The Kitchen is the last social housing that the government has closed, but despite blatantly ineffective blockades and water shutoffs, its occupants hold on. Benji needs someone to take care of him. Izi is his first choice, and he reluctantly offers him a couch in his place for a couple of days. Izi never knew his mother, and he struggles with knowing anyone else or letting anyone else know him. Benji is obstinate and determined to get through to Izi. In spite of himself, can Izi let him in?     

Black Dystopias and Other Problems

Dystopias in science fiction can be the scenes of cautionary tales where a current evil’s fate is fast-forwarded toward doom. The Kitchen is warning that in Britain, the face of class and economic disadvantage will be mostly black. That should be shocking, but hundreds of years of that actual fact in the colonial world, including Africa and the Americas, have inured most to it. What eventually happens to those disadvantaged people whom the police – in riot gear, looking like imperial stormtroopers from the Star Wars series – drive out from their apartments? Unsatisfactorily, this is one of a few enigmas The Kitchen never explicates, like why the occupants still have water and electricity in one public bathroom. And, most importantly, why is this war against them? If their fate stays mysterious, then so do the stakes of the story and, thus, the power of its drama. 

The Kitchen features a predominantly black world, which is rare in science fiction, where blacks are only seen on a dystopian future earth. The universes of Star Trek and Star Wars feature blacks in space, but on Earth, they’re either supporting characters in Charlton Heston dystopian science fiction classics Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973) or in The Matrix (1999) or featuring huge box office African American stars Will Smith and Denzel Washington coping with this planet’s nightmarish futures in movies like I Am Legend (2007) and The Book of Eli (2010) respectively.

There are other ingredients that are fishy or even unsavory in The Kitchen. Writer-director Daniel Kaluuya – best known for starring in director Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and Nope (2022) – and co-writers Joe Murtagh and Amy Baty include a sketchy romance subplot spotlighting Benji and Ruby (Teija Kabs). It’s realistic, sweetly endearing, and affords another aspect to Benji’s character, but is it necessary?  A heinous scene where a middle-class black family is terrorized as black squatters vandalize their home demonstrates the rage of the disadvantaged at the expense of sympathy for them.            

The Kitchen Is Character Driven

Unlike more typically plot-driven science fiction stories where events are primary, The Kitchen is character-driven; the points of view of the characters and the decisions they engender are fundamental. Izi is self-centered, even selfish, but he grapples with himself to care for those who have found their way into his life. He realizes that he didn’t know his work colleague, Jase (Demmy Ladipo), has a daughter. He attempts to use Benji and Benji’s mother’s death to close a sale on commission at his job. Most importantly, Izi’s paternal feelings toward Benji are pent-up inside him, breaking through more often and developing into parental self-sacrifice from self-serving. Benji is dogged. He obstinately refuses to surrender his mother’s last birthday present, a bicycle, to a gang led by Staples (Hope Ikpoku Jnr) from his social housing. He’s stubbornly made up his mind to survive, and he’d prefer to do so with Izi, but his need to belong and his self-esteem will only allow him to tolerate so much of Izi’s distancing and ghosting. 

The Kitchen depends on the believability of Izi, Benji, and Staples, who is kind of a paternal foil to Izi and Benji’s backup father figure. Kane Robinson and Jedaiah Bannerman carry the film, and Hope Ikpoku Jnr balances Robinson’s characterization.  Most of the performances are credible. The notable exceptions are some of the minor roles, which are either too perfunctorily written, too amateurishly portrayed, or both, especially the white characters.     

Production Design and Music Complement the Characters and Cast

Realistic production design complements the believable characters and performances in The Kitchen. This film’s futuristic urban squalor of retrofitted buildings and bazaars derives from Blade Runner (1982). The Kitchen looks like stacks of shipping containers. Izi and Benji eat in a restaurant and visit a barber shop in a street market whose stalls sell other necessities and sundries. Nathan Parker, who won a British Independent Film Award for Best Production Design in 2023 for The Kitchen, builds a world where the interior design of the social housings could be inspired by prison cells. Police drones surveil the exteriors and are shot down by the occupants with monstrous slingshots loaded with rubble. Users scroll through messages on smart mirrors while they carry out their morning hygiene routines. 

Like in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989), a DJ spinning vinyl, here, Lord Kitchener (Ian Wright), with his pirate radio station, is the voice of the community. Lord Kitchener announces their events: births, weddings, funerals, and more. The Kitchen’s soundtrack of mostly black artists runs the gamut from seventies Fela Kuti Nigerian Afrobeat through eighties American funk and rhythm and blues by Champaign and Cameo, Ghanaian artists like Ruff Sqwad, Kofi Nti, and Alhaji K. Frimpong, Jamaican reggae by Busy Signal, and black British artists like Shandy Bongwala Bombusa, Sampha, and Giggs. What isn’t played on Lord Kitchener’s station is spun in a literally underground skating rink where Benji first awkwardly woos Ruby.    

 Despite Its Cold Warnings, The Kitchen Is Warm

The Kitchen is a predominantly black-cast dystopian science fiction film with a character-driven relationship story. It is complemented by realistic performances and production design and an eclectic soundtrack by mostly black artists from Africa, America, Jamaica, and Britain. The film has its flaws, but they don’t spoil the experience. The main characters, their interactions, the look, and the music prepare a movie worth watching. Despite its cold warnings against class and race warfare in Britain, The Kitchen is warm. The Kitchen was produced by DMC Film, 59%, and Factory Fifteen. It was released on January 19, 2024. 

Stream The Kitchen on Netflix today! 

The Kitchen (2023) Official Netflix Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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James Keith La Croix has worked in and around the entertainment industry for years. He majored in film studies at Wayne State University and in Live Action Video at the College for Creative Studies. He wrote reviews, interviews, and features on cinema for the Detroit’s Metro Times.

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Elke Simmons' writing portfolio includes contributions to The Laredo Morning Times, Walt Disney World Eyes and Ears, Extinction Rebellion (XR) News/Blog, and Dead Talk News.