‘The Kitchen’ review: A withering slow-burn tragedy in three parts
(Credits: Netflix)

Film Reviews

‘The Kitchen’ review: A withering slow-burn tragedy in three parts

The Kitchen - Kibwe Tavares & Daniel Kaluuya

With The Kitchen, Kibwe Tavares and Daniel Kaluuya—in a stunningly impressive co-directorial debut—do not want us to sit comfortably for a second, not even when the curtains fall on this dystopia set in a future that is not so distant. The Kitchen is a witheringly scornful, slow-burn tragedy in three parts.

The film’s premise is stark: in a future where social housing is obliterated, Izi (Kane Robinson) and 12-year-old Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman) grapple with survival as residents of The Kitchen—a resilient community determined to cling to their vanishing homes. At its core, the film is about the strained relationship between an estranged father and son. But that is just the Trojan horse in a story that is ultimately about people who are refugees in their own country—downtrodden and constantly brutalised by an authoritarian state.

Izi works for a funeral home and dreams of owning his own place. Things become a bit more complicated for him when he meets Benji, who is possibly his son. Will he be able to step up and be the family Benji has been seeking, or succumb to the dreams sold by a post-capitalist, neo-feudal society? It seems like he won’t be able to do it, but in a display of strength that is emphatically laudable, Izi is able to turn his eyes away from the black mirror. But does that make The Kitchen a tale of hope? Not exactly. It is a cautionary one, though. Take it as a reminder that the absolute lack of working-class solidarity and apathy, and not robots, will end civilisation as we know it.

There are films that speak loudly but say little; The Kitchen is not one of them. The film masterfully employs the dystopian backdrop to mirror our present reality. It embraces the cultural richness of the African diaspora and its descendants, using it as a potent palette to paint a scathing commentary on brazen capitalist greed. Amid the despair, the youth of The Kitchen still grow up. They find solace in song, dance, and rebellion. The radio becomes the symbol of this resistance in a film that is written with a lot of measured nuance.

Jedaiah Bannerman delivers a heartwrenching performance as Benji, a young boy who has just lost his mother. Robinson continues to be a force to be reckoned with, expressing so much anguish, cowardice, and moral goodness while being tremendously reticent. While the story primarily revolves around Izi and Benji, The Kitchen actually lashes out with its razor-sharp commentary on the corrosive nature of the ever-widening wealth inequality and the romanticisation of abject individualism. 

The film is an unapologetic exploration of societal decay, where oppression echoes the familiar tune of historical colonisers. From land theft to the control of basic resources like water and extreme police surveillance, The Kitchen arrives with a searing reminder that dystopia is already here for the exploited and oppressed. There might be condescending AI and digital mirrors in dimly-lit, rickety communal bathrooms in the dystopian world crafted by Rob Hayes, Joe Murtagh, and Kaluuya, but the reality that The Kitchen is rooted in is all too familiar. One pivotal scene that comes towards the end of the film is even more revelatory.

The brutal extinguishing of the voice of resistance becomes the catalyst for the young residents of The Kitchen. In this scene, we get a glimpse of the more affluent neighbourhoods, and they look just like any regular old posh part of London. Their retaliatory act of vandalism is ultimately inconsequential, but it triggers an offensive onslaught that is vastly disproportionate in nature. This is how the explosion of pent-up rage against a system that seeks to crush any glimmer of defiance is met by oppressors everywhere. This raw depiction of the disproportionate force wielded by those in power against those seeking justice may sound too similar, but that is simply because imperialists follow a similar textbook of oppression everywhere they go.

Move over Saltburn. With shades of Black Mirror and Blade Runner, The Kitchen is the film you need to watch if you want to be a part of the class politics discourse in cinema in 2024. After all, in an age where the revolution is broadcast on our smartphones, scrolling away from uncomfortable truths risks forfeiting the future forever.