The Kitchen review | Daniel Kaluuya’s directorial debut is a dystopian triumph

the kitchen review
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Daniel Kaluuya shows off impressive directing chops in a London-set sci-fi. Here’s our review of The Kitchen.

In the near-future London of The Kitchen, the feature directorial debut from Kibwe Tavares and Daniel Kaluuya, social housing has all but disappeared.

Self-imposed loner Izi (Kane Robinson) lives in the concrete complex of the title, the last block in a sea of smooth glass vanity projects breaking up the London skyline. Every morning he dreams of leaving, if the regular police raids don’t turf him out first. Either way, it doesn’t look like he’ll be there for long.

That is until he meets a 12-year-old kid named Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman), burying his mother at the pristine ‘cremate me into a tree’ funeral home where Izi works. As young kids meeting world-weary outsiders in dystopian futures tend to do, Benji complicates things a bit.

The Kitchen’s world is an impressive feat of economical world building. Its vision of a divided future London is less flying cars versus dystopian squalor and more a balanced, and terrifyingly plausible, continuation of where the country at times seems to be heading. Where sci-fi isn’t exactly shy when it comes to front-loading social analogies, Tavares and Kaluuya have planted their story of missing fathers, authoritarian government and civil unrest right into the centre of their film. The Kitchen is social commentary first, science fiction second, and all the more powerful for it.

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The Kitchen itself is run down but functional, a Judge Dredd-style tower block with brightly painted walls and washing left out on the balconies. The conflict for its residents isn’t that their situation itself is untenable; it’s that riot police have turned off their water supply and are marching in to turf them out. The holy grail of apartments, meanwhile, the city’s prestigious Bueno Vista blocks, look and function much like next door’s new kitchen in 2023 (with a touchscreen mirror or two for good measure).

Even when the occasional hologram or splash of Blade Runner neon lights up a market street, the whole thing looks remarkably London-ish. Rather than paint its world in broad strokes, Tavares and Kaluuya’s minimalist approach when applying sci-fi elements allows the film’s social commentary to shine while a few futuristic details serve to heighten it.

That commentary might not be entirely new, but the community versus faceless illiberalism angle feels much fresher than it otherwise might because the setting, and the people in it, are so rarely the focus of sci-fi stories. More than anything else, the story and the setting are both told with such a clear understanding and experience of the situations the characters find themselves in that it’s difficult not to find the whole thing unnervingly recognisable.

Both the leads are also excellent, with newcomer Bannerman proving a complete revelation – at turns showily macho and devastatingly vulnerable, the young actor is totally convincing throughout. As Benji finds himself torn between a reluctant father figure in Izi and the welcoming powder keg of a gang keen to adopt him as one of their own, Bannerman’s wide-eyed innocence shines through in moving moments even while the character is trying to look tough. Top Boy's Robinson similarly counteracts his character’s prickly exterior with a soft and squidgy core.

The result is a genuinely tense mash-up of Attack The Block and Do The Right Thing with a chunk of Black Mirror thrown in for good measure. Kaluuya’s involvement will undoubtedly have raised The Kitchen's profile way above what it might otherwise expect (it was selected as the Closing Gala for the 2023 London Film Festival for good reason), but its taught inventiveness and powerful insight into class politics mean it more than deserves the attention. Authentically British sci-fi doesn’t get much better than this.

The Kitchen was shown at the BFI London Film Festival 2023, and arrives on Netflix in “late 2023”.

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