Available In select theaters, drive-ins, on demand, and digital August 14, 2020
Synopsis: Thirsty for a following, Kurt Kunkle is a rideshare driver who has figured out a deadly plan to go viral.
Stars: Joe Keery, Sasheer Zamata, David Arquette, Kyle Mooney, Mischa Barton
Director: Eugene Kotlyarenko
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Being famous for doing nothing used to be seen as something trivial, what you’d snicker at silently and roll your eyes over while reading about it in a wrinkled magazine at your optometrist’s office while you waited for your pupils to slowly dilate. As your vision became blurrier and the words became harder to read, all you could focus on were the pictures and in the end that’s all that mattered because it was the visuals of the do-nothing-for-fames that managed to get them where they were. Now, after years of watching people ascend to the rank of celebrity on their skills as an “influencer”, it’s no longer something to laugh about. It almost makes you want to cry.
That’s why a movie like Spree will likely be interpreted in a number of different ways by anyone who views it. It all depends on what you personally think about the current culture of social media and how it has the power to affect the actions of others. Whether it’s deciding what to buy or where to go, more and more there is a reliance on these internet influencers to call the shots and it’s crazy to think it’s a money-making business for some. It’s definitely not making money for the likes of people like Spree‘s Kurt Kunkle, the twenty-something wannabe star who takes his desire for fame too far over the course of one bloody night.
Though it’s framed like a “found footage” sort of package, don’t let that scare you off right away (there may be other things that do that, so beware) because Spree gets off to an entertaining start taking us through our introduction to Kurt (Joe Keery, Stranger Things, Molly’s Game) and his YouTube show “Kurt’s World”. Attracting minimal viewers and netting next to no followers on his various social media accounts, Kurt’s hopes of becoming famous seem to be fading fast and he knows he needs to do something big to get noticed. Maybe he can use his connection as former babysitter to internet sensation @bobbybasecamp (Josh Ovalle) to drum up some new followers but how to get the attention of the world?
The answer shows up in what Kurt dubs #TheLesson.
Working as a driver for a rideshare service, Kurt tricks out his car with video cameras and livestreams his fares…who he begins to kill, first with poisoned water and then with the clock ticking and his follower count not rising fast enough, via other methods that get progressively more gruesome and desperate as the night goes on. Throughout the day, Kurt encounters a number of faces that will be familiar to viewers and it’s not a spoiler to say that some of them make it out of the car alive. Some of them die out of the car, too. No, really, there are interesting cameos from Kyle Mooney (Hello, My Name Is Doris) as a hapless jokester, David Arquette (star of the equally meta documentary You Can’t Kill David Arquette arriving soon) as his Dad, a loser DJ that bribes his son for a ride by promising him an Instagram mention from a visiting DJ playing at the same (strip) club. Mischa Barton (Notting Hill), Frankie Grande, and Lala Kent (Hard Kill) all show up at one point or another, too…a random mix of the very influencer-celebrities the film is taking aim at.
The most important fare is comedian Jessie Adams (from SNL player Sasheer Zamata, excellent in a honest to goodness breakout role) because she’s exactly the kind of social media star he isn’t. Easy-going, self-aware, honest, edgy, and maybe a little meaner than she has to be, she’s also worked her way to get to the comedy show she’s performing in that evening and an early encounter with Kyle doesn’t end well for him. Quickly becoming fascinated with Jessie, Kurt turns his attention from wondering why his star struggles to rise to fixating on how hers manages to ascend with little trouble. That’s when the real madness of Spree truly takes over.
Spree is a move that is all fun and games…until it isn’t and then you suddenly realize you’ve been playing along with something very dark and dangerous. It’s exactly the kind of response the movie wants you to have and I admit I fell head first into its well-designed snap trap. Writer/director Eugene Kotlyarenko doesn’t have any observances that are hugely revelatory but it’s the way he goes the extra mile in depicting the lengths to which Kurt will go for fame and the alarming coldness in his dispatching of human life that gives Spree those extra jolts to make you shudder. Along with Keery, Kotlyarenko and cinematographer Jeff Leeds Cohn have amassed a tremendous amount of footage to establish Kurt’s online presence – I can’t even imagine how many hours/days it took to film all of it, yet alone for editor Benjamin Moses Smith to cut it together into the cohesive narrative it is. That is isn’t just a 90-minute exercise in eye-ball gouging obnoxiousness is a miracle unto itself.
Still…it’s hard to get over the truth the movie is made up of bits and pieces of other films that have done this whole 15 minutes of fame nonsense in better (though more subtle) ways. You don’t have to squint too hard watching Spree to see the elements of Taxi Driver, Maps to the Stars, American Psycho, Joker, Nightcrawler, or even Chicago that have been brought into the mix. Yes, Spree may deliver the same message with the volume turned up a little louder and is far more in your face than Travis Bickle ever was…but those understated characters were often more unnerving because of their stillness. Spree’s Kurt Kunkle is a ball of energy wanting to be noticed and it’s hard not to see him in front of you. Same goes for the movie.