Directed by: Eugene Kotlyarenko
Written by: Eugene Kotlyarenko & Gene McHugh
Starring: Joe Keery, Sasheer Zamata, Mischa Barton, John DeLuca, Josh Ovalle, Lala Kent
The popularity of the internet has made people more connected than ever but has also allowed for the worst human tendencies to be amplified to a distressing degree. It gives people the idea that they can get famous if they put together ine grind and do something audacious enough, which spurs the protagonist of Spree in his venture to be loved by his followers. Vicious in its portrayal but completely loses control of the third act, this film certainly brings up some excellent points about internet fame to a disturbing degree.
Desperate to go viral for something, Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery) decides today will be the day he will do something so brazen that his minuscule view counts will undoubtedly spike. He decides to drive for a ridesharing app and record himself killing people. This plan goes awry with things not going as anticipated.
As someone who typically uses YouTube for sports and financial videos, I am mostly unaware of the different sectors out there others use for entertainment. Spree taps into the style of influencer and YouTube personality that goes for the most reckless content possible because they know it will attract the necessary views for good traffic on their channel. This can be seen in those awful prank videos where people are willing to put their bodies and of others on the line for an extra like for the algorithm. This has made those unsuccessful try some very strange things, and Kurt makes the ultimate decision to kill people for entertainment.
While watching this film, this did not feel as much as a fantastical situation as many would hope. It genuinely scares me that I could honestly see someone try to pull something like this off if it gives them higher subscribers or followers on Instagram. People are just that invested in the idea of becoming internet famous to not try it out at some point. A dark perspective but seeing what people do now certainly makes the case. Setting up this premise really bolsters what Spree wants to portray and while the lead up builds to something incredibly intriguing, the film, unfortunately, goes completely off the rails with how it chooses to conclude the story.
What made the set up so interesting came from the realness of it all. Kurt gets positioned as someone who genuinely tries to get internet famous by posting wholesome videos. He makes his own brand and wants to garner plenty of followers. Everything he tries fails even with him putting in years of content. The film opens with several clips from his different videos. I felt a searing pain when watching it because I know the effort and time it takes to put out the content he does and it simply hurts when it shows the low levels of interaction he actually receives for all of the work. Everything Kurt does comes with a level of sincerity and lack of cynicism that it compares well to Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler. However, while the Jake Gyllenhaal-led film ends in a beautifully poignant manner, Spree cannot fully verbalize its thesis and just loses the plot after things begin to really ramp up.
The camera style of the feature comes directly from those held by the characters. We only see what Kurt shows when he’s recording, which makes us part of the audience or lack thereof he initially has. A particular tidbit towards the end really works in implicating the people watching this story. It occurs when a character looks right into the streaming camera and chastises the people watching as monsters for consuming this horrible content. In a way, this character also yells at us , as the audience of this movie, because we’re indulging this story by continuing to watch it. As things get more extreme as the night continues, the comment section in the streams truly shows the level of depravity people on the internet can harbor. It becomes difficult to completely follow because of the rate of speed these comments come flying in but it further cements the number of people encouraging this damaging behavior. Those watching make me just as fearful as the actions being done by Kurt.
Plenty of credit should go to Joe Keery for taking on this role. Attaining his initial fame for playing a lovable guy in Stranger Things, this role feels like a complete 180 of how he has established himself thus far. This role requires the lead actor to be completely unhinged and detached from reality, which he certainly brings to the role. Every moment spent with this character brings a feeling of awkwardness because Kurt can barely be considered a human at this point. He has essentially become a cyborg regurgitating the same lines by reminding people to subscribe and tag him. Seriously, the number of times he asks people to tag him could be its own drinking game. I truly hope Keery continues to take on challenging roles just like this one because he certainly proved to be the best part of this film.
Incredibly messy to the point it loses its narrative strength, Spree features a strong lead performance and an astonishingly timely premise. It bites off a little more than it can chew, especially as it gets towards the end but it does have some genuinely startling moments that don’t feel like it will stay as fiction forever.