If you’re reading this, that means one thing: We’re connected. We are all in touch with content created for us, by us through our beloved social media applications as well as the following that builds so much of the world in which we currently exist. Director Eugene Kotlyarenko (Wobble Place) puts audiences in the passenger seat as social media becomes the frightening backdrop of one aspiring personality’s spiraling desperation in Spree. Starring Joe Keery (Stranger Things), Sasheer Zamata (Saturday Night Live), David Arquette (Scream), Kyle Mooney (Saturday Night Live), Mischa Barton (The O.C.), Frankie Grande (Style Code Live), and John DeLuca (Teen Beach Movie), Spree is a fresh and entertaining take on found footage film layered in thrilling dark comedy realism.
Kurt “dreams of sitting atop a social media empire, but for now he drives for the rideshare company Spree. Fortunately, Kurt has come up with the perfect way to go viral: #TheLesson. He’s decked out his car with cameras for a nonstop livestream full of killer entertainment – murdering his passengers. In the middle of all this madness, a stand-up comedian with her own viral agenda crosses Kurt’s path and becomes the only hope to put an end to his misguided carnage.”
The first grab that got me when it came to Spree was the leading role of Kurt Kunkle played by Joe Keery. I couldn’t fathom how the smooth, handsome, heroic ‘babysitting’ Steve Harrington could play such a vile character, but he does and it’s close to perfect. Spree’s trailer sold me and watching Keery flesh out the role with eerie talent took over my full blown attention. Completely transforming and leaning into this performance via social media (yes, there is a real KurtsWorld69 account) and throughout the film, Keery manifests such an incredibly realistic online persona that deviates from any expectation as to what would come next from the young actor. From his look to his mannerisms as Kurt, Keery proves he is not a one-trick-pony and is able to apply his charisma to more modern, relevant, and sinister roles. In this strange battle of identity versus personality, Keery embraces all of Kurt’s quirks and creepy qualities as he embarks on an extreme joy ride driving social media terror to optimum speed.
Kurt Kunkle as a character himself is very well crafted. Feeling like a zero in a world that intrinsically plays a numbers game, Kurt crosses the line from anti-hero to villain quickly in Spree, putting the audience in an interesting seat where there are no truly redeemable characters in sight. Beginning with the actual illustration of a sad life story, from his parents’ divorce to displacement to his struggle chasing internet fame, Kurt is soberingly candid. He is believable because we see people like him everyday as we scroll through our endless feeds. Vying to use his small platform to gain traction as a star, ultimately becoming one, this young man is a honest representation of both the irreverent and passionate creators users are exposed to online. Dangerous and lacking any genuine sense of humanity, Kurt is a scary kind of character that embodies all of the ugly audacity that occurs behind a variety of screens. His character evokes a range of disgust, sympathy, fear, and even vicarious chagrin, making him a sharp, modern figure. It’s Kurt’s world, we’re just living in it.
Almost all of the content in Spree is a lesson in social media obsession gone wrong. One of the film’s strongest attributes is its authentic digitized medium as it takes place through streaming platforms, security footage, cell phone applications, and all sorts of internet-based documentation. Spree’s ample footage presentation is supplemented by styled techno music, text and comment communications, live feeds, tutorials, reviews, and split screens to maximize the reach of Kurt and others’ audience. Each scene is crafted in a material meaning that is applicable to our world which is more heavily reliant on media than ever before. Striving to record his existence and create content, at any and all possible costs, Kurt’s disconnect from emotion steadily unravels as he ironically connects himself to the masses. The clever nuance gives the story an effective cause despite the narrative taking a dip come the end of the second act.
So many elements work towards Spree’s success as a modern day found footage film, but some of the writing slightly suffers and loses a bit of its momentous traction once Kurt’s “spree” begins. The more horrific aspects are never really capitalized and most of the anticipated gore is stunted by being implied over shown. However the special effects, when given the space to breathe, are impeccable. It is able to hold viewer attention and save itself in a pretty wild third act, rebounding with maximum tension and plenty of WTF moments. The film easily incorporates an intentional multitude of camera angles and viewpoints giving it swift movement throughout. Spree proves that found footage is far from dead and could actually flow with current trends. The energy is palpable and establishes topical rules in content creation from a genre perspective. Spree’s satirical feel is dialed up by saturated characters and tongue-in-cheek humor, turning out what may seem like an exaggerated adventure, but one that is unfortunately not too far from reality.
All Eyes On Me
There’s no doubt about it, the internet is a contentious environment. As an appropriate arena for present-day horror to unfold, Spree builds on more than just the likes, comments, and sharing aspects that control so many of our social lives. The pains of growing an audience, coming up with content, and creating a brand subscribe to this new age idea of being connected to others. Influencers hold power while others post into obscurity, taking human interactions to different levels of approval merit. Spree manages to promote so many of today’s networking devices into Kurt’s story without becoming a jarring jab at social media obsession. Instead, viewers ride through a viral rampage that encompasses an, again, ironically organic stream. As Spree literally displays all of the ways we can allow strangers to access our lives and vice versa, one young man’s obsession with exposure hits dark roads.
Packed with opinions, shoutouts, activism, and ratings, Spree is a captivating trip that channels so many suitable components when it comes to our strange fascination with instant stardom. Themes of watching and judging others run fluidly through the narrative acting as their own interdependent streams of uneasy progressive distress. Kotlyarkeno’s screenplay has its flaws, but not enough to cancel Spree’s effective tread through tricky territory. The cast stands strong and are each quite popular themselves, but it is truly Joe Keery who puts on an intriguing and impressive performance countered by the equally engaging Sasheer Zamata. His role as Kurt is an ambitious move that drives Spree forward and makes up for what the film may lack. Spree is an overall enjoyable, menacing portrait of human disconnect and our eternal plug into social technology. Consider it a life hack: Watch Spree as soon as you can.
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Spree is available to stream via VOD on August 14th, 2020.
‘Spree’ is a dangerous joyride that connects social media with found footage