It’s ironic. For months, we’ve longed to see a film on the big screen and, just as the cinemas start to re-open, along comes a movie tailor made for the smaller screen. The smaller the better.
At the centre of Spree is one of the growing legions of social media wannabes, Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery), who always introduces himself as KurtsWorld96. Yet, despite posting videos for years, he’s just not very good at it and his audience never gets into double figures. But taking a job as a Spree driver sparks off an idea for some new, outrageous content which could change all that. Because the one thing he desperately wants is to be noticed and he’ll stop at nothing to make that happen.
In this case, it’s killing spree (geddit?), complete with its own hashtag, an extreme social media strategy that gets him the attention he craves and gives the audience a feeling of déjà vu. Films such as Ingrid Goes West and, more recently, Infamous, have highlighted the obsession with “likes” and “followers”, the price tag they carry and their detachment from real life. What makes Spree different, and why it struck a chord with audiences at this year’s Sundance, is the style with which director Eugene Kotlyarenko has captured it on screen. It’s a mix of naturalistic film making and videos from phone apps, using the found-footage technique that harks back to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. The result is a comedy horror, one with more than a touch of the slasher about it, a la American Psycho, and which rejoices in a wild and crazy guy performance from Keery.
It’s one that his Stranger Things fans will enjoy, because that easy going charm and innocent face is played for all its worth. Kurt is sad, creepy at times yet still fun to watch, even as his actions become all the more monstrous. Even his followers, who once condemned him as “the worst streamer ever” have to agree with that. And they do. But the car interior setting and those camera techniques, especially the phone app footage and the split-screen effects with their user comments, make this a perfect fit for something the size of an iPad, if not smaller. Not that it’s unsuccessful in a cinema but, set within the world of social media in similar way to Searching and Unfriended, it’s happier on a more pocket sized home.
The gore is there, as is the central joke that social media fans are shallow and their idols are self-obsessed, but it doesn’t add anything new to what has rapidly become a familiar premise. So, while there’s fun and a few shocks to be had, it’s hard to really get involved in Kurt’s fate, or those of any of the other characters. Spree earns a “like” but not much more.
Horror, Comedy | Cert: PG | Vertigo Releasing | 14 August 2020 | Dir. Eugene Kotlyarenko | Joe Keery, Sasheer Zamata, David Arquette, Mischa Barton.