If Patrick Bateman was a social media influencer, he’d look a lot like Kurt Kunkle, the “hero” of Eugene Kotlyarenko‘s wacko thriller Spree, which comes off like an American Psycho update for the digital age.
Stranger Things star Joe Keery blows up his YA-friendly image as @KurtsWorld96, a driver for the rideshare company Spree, who has placed cameras all over his car to mine content from his assortment of passengers. Unfortunately, no one seems to care. His streams never get more than single-digit views. He’s “friends” with a major influencer, but he lacks a hook of his own. Enter #TheLesson. What’s that, you ask? Well, let’s just say that Spree doesn’t necessarily take its title from Kurt’s employer.
That’s right. Our smiling friend Kurt, who will gladly follow you back if you’d just follow him, has planned a killing spree to amplify his meager following. He uses everything from guns to knives to junkyard dogs, but mainly, his weapon is his car. You may never accept a free water from your Uber driver ever again after seeing this movie.
So Kurt goes about his day, killing mostly innocent people, until he runs into rising comedienne Jessie Adams, who has everything Kurt wants. She has fans. And they care about her. Kurt, on the other hand, is lonely. To him, you don’t even exist unless someone is watching you. As played by Saturday Night Live alum Sasheer Zamata, Jessie is probably the single best element in the film, but like Kurt, the film gets a little too enamored of her, and once SNL‘s Kyle Mooney enters the picture as her wannabe manager, Spree loses its focus on Kurt, and thus, its momentum.
That said, I really liked the supporting cast here, from David Arquette, who plays Kurt’s washed-up DJ of a father who boasts of getting a residence (every other week) at a strip club, to Mischa Barton and Frankie Grande (Ariana’s brother) as two of Kurt’s unlucky passengers. But the most entertaining passenger who climbs into Kurt’s death trap car is Mario, who finds himself sharing a Spree Social with Jessie, and wastes no time hitting on her before getting dunked on. Mario is a real sleazeball, and Tom Cruise lookalike John DeLuca plays him to perfection, but it’s on the audience to decide whether or not he deserves his cruel fate. That’s actually my biggest issue with the movie, which was executive produced by both Drake and and Adel “Future” Nur.
It’s hard to argue with Kotlyarenko’s bravura filmmaking, but his message remains muddled. There’s an element of finger-pointing, with Jessie ultimately chastising people for watching, which forces the audience to contemplate their own participation in this murderous display of evil. Are we Kurt’s accomplices, encouraging him regardless of whether our comments are positive or negative? As long as we’re watching Kurt, that’s all he really cares about. But this isn’t a new, or particularly bold observation. It’s almost become the trendy thing to do. Just look at the end of the excellent Netflix docuseries Don’t Fuck With Cats, where Baudy Moovin wags her finger at everyone watching at home. At least it makes more sense in DFWC, because the events depicted actually happened. But you know what? I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy all the scenes of murder and mayhem that Spree has to offer. If that makes me complicit, so be it.
And speaking of Netflix, since this is an acquisition title, one has to wonder if the streamer is more inclined to buy Spree, since Keery is homegrown talent and his fanbase is already subscribed, or if they want nothing to do with this film, since it’s a complete 180 from Keery’s fan favorite turn as Steve on Stranger Things. Keery impressed me in his first major lead role, but it sure presents a fascinating dilemma. Will Lionsgate (Nerve) or Screen Gems (Searching) make a play for this? Only time will tell, and I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long to find out. This movie is definitely going to sell, even if it has already proven to be divisive (where else?) online.
With Spree, Kotlyarenko has made a movie for the ADD generation, one raised on mobile phone, and he’s clearly a director to watch, with style to spare. As someone who writes for Collider and frequently reads the lovely comments on its YouTube videos, I can say that the Russian filmmaker deserves an Oscar for capturing the ugly essence of what has become The Comments Section. Seriously, I caught my eyes drifting from the primary action to the constant stream of comments churning below, which were frighteningly accurate as far as live chats go.
Keery impressed me in his first major lead role, but there’s something a little too vapid about Spree to take it completely seriously. I attended its very first screening at 8:30 p.m., but this is a midnight movie through and through, and I suspect it should’ve screened for an audience that might be a bit more in on the joke. The truth is that Spree should’ve embraced its demented premise and really gone full Grand Theft Auto. Instead, it tries to inject some depth to the proceedings, and as a result, it doesn’t fully coalesce. I didn’t know whether to give this movie a B or a C+, so like Kurt’s approach to tipping, I’ll choose the middle option.
For more of our Sundance 2020 reviews, click the links below:
- The Assistant
- Bad Hair
- Crip Camp
- Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story
- Miss Americana
- Never Rarely Sometimes Always
- Promising Young Woman