My love for Spree, a new feature highlighted by excellent performances from Joe Keery and Sasheer Zamata, mainly lies in the shock of recognition. Social influencers and social media are valid methods in getting your respective “brand” to another level, and director Eugene Kotylarenko effectively captures the desperation of seeking validation in this all consuming universe.
Kurt Kunkle (Stranger Things’ Joe Keery) is a 23-year-old rideshare driver for Spree, and for much of his youth he has tried to become a valued social influencer. But nothing has stuck, so Kurt comes up with a bloody and downright criminal plan to go viral. With poisoned water bottles in two and several GoPros installed in his car, Kurt embarks on a killing “spree” with the sole intent of gaining more followers and views on his livestream.
David Arquette co-stars as Kurt’s irresponsible DJ dad Kris, and even though he’s a deadbeat he may have a connection (Sunny Kim in a memorable role as a Korean celebrity) who will enhance Kurt’s social media game. Jessie Adams (Sasheer Zamata), an up and coming stand-up comedian who ends up as one of Kurt’s passengers, could also be another cure for Kurt’s social media invisibility.
With an operation that he dubs #thelesson, Kurt is focused on doing whatever he takes to increase his popularity, and a substantial portion of the narrative deals with his oftentimes violent encounters with various passengers. Mischa Barton, Frankie Grande (Ariana’s brother and one of my favorite Big Brother vets), and Jessalyn Gilsig are among the folks who are probably taking their last ride on Earth.
The vacuity of social media may be low hanging fruit, but director Eugene Kotlyarenko (who co-wrote the script with Gene McHugh) makes his point with panache. As a “content creator” myself, all of the lingo that Kurt spews was all too familiar. Recently I actually pondered using the word “slaps” in my day to day lingo (thankfully Spree set me straight!).
Even with a solid script, the picture’s success lies in Keery’s realistic portryal. The naturally charismatic actor brings the right amount of creepiness and sadness to Kurt, ultimately leading to a vivid and knowing portrayal of a person who puts algorithms before humanity.
Spree ramps it up to another level whenever Jessie Adams’ story enters the picture. Zamata, a naturally gifted comedian (she’s a Saturday Night Live alum) delivers a rich portrayal of a woman who, though obviously not as twisted as Kurt, has a thirst for her share of attention. Jessie enters the story as a seemingly guarded and unlikable person, but as we get to know her motivations (especially in relation to a slimy colleague played by Kyle Mooney), we understand why social distancing is usually the best option. The final act of the film, wherein we witness a battle of wills between Jessie and Kurt, is a total nail-biter.
There may be complaints that Spree is not cinematic enough, as the movie is ultimately a livestream capture of Kurt’s rampage. That said, the film will appeal to folks who know a thing or two about the livestreaming process, and watching random users comment during all of the action (and Kurt’s continuous mental breakdown) is a compelling watch.
If you’re expecting tons of gore, you’ve come to the wrong place. Though there is a healthy body count, much of the violence is toned down (even if you’ll eventually see a bit of blood). Though steeped in thriller elements, Spree is more interested in the destructive effects of social media and its ultimate undressing of sheer decency and morality.
For 92 minutes, Spree takes us on a ride with a total monster of a human being, and director Eugene Kotlyarenko refreshingly doesn’t ask us to sympathize with Kurt’s plight. Instead, he wonders if this narcissistic and destructive ride will ever stop. Although we already know the answer, it’s hard to look away from the inevitable.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Spree hits theaters, On Demand, and Digital on August 14. To check out our reviews of The Tax Collector, Radioactive, and The Assistant, take a listen to the latest episode of Find Your Film: