In today’s age, it seems as though everyone knows that one person who is after social media fame (or you are that person). More followers, more views, more recognition. Eugene Kotlyarenko’s new film, Spree, satirizes this dream by showing some horrifying consequences that comes with this goal. Spree follows Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery), a rideshare driver for the fictional company, Spree, who begins to film the extravagant murders of his customers while growing obsessed with a viral stand up comic, Jessie (Sasheer Zamata), who he picks up. While a horror satirizing social media obsession isn’t a particularly new idea—as seen with the likes of Black Mirror and 2018’s Assassination Nation—there is still plenty that Spree has to offer as both an entertaining and even thought provoking watch.
Joe Keery’s performance as social media obsessed and socially awkward Kurt is a stand out in the film. Keery plays Kurt with a reservedness that is both intimidating in the sense that he could be planning anything, but mostly pathetic in the sense that this is a guy who only lives on social media. It is as if Joe Keery modelled his performance off of every cringe compilation that Youtube has to offer and put them through a dark lense. Keery demonstrates every aspect of this complicated character from his people pleasing tendencies to sociopathy with such ease that he is up there with Christian Bale’s performance in American Psycho or even Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates.
The film’s main point of satire is on the desperation of fame, specifically of becoming viral. There are countless times when people have done pretty bad things for internet clout—from filming dead bodies in Japan to adopting kids to invading a government building (and yes, sadly these are real examples). Kotlyarenko’s film turns this extreme up a notch and adds murder to the list—from Kurt filming himself poisoning his passenger’s water bottles to leading them to rabid junkyard dogs to just plain old stabbing. While Kurt thinks this will gain him the media attention he so desperately wants, all the comments hilariously enough view these murders as “obviously fake.” Kurt needs to be famous though, he needs people to know who he is. He often says, “If you’re not documenting yourself it’s simple, you just don’t exist.” While the murder scenes are disturbing and will excite any horror fan that enjoys creatively done murders, they show the lengths Kurt will go to create “content” that will entertain the masses thus get him followers.
Kurt isn’t the only character used to satirize the dark side of social media fame though. In fact, it it is done with many of the passengers in Kurt’s car as well—which includes a famous alt-right conservative (Linas Phillips), a selfie obsessed group of partiers (Mischa Barton and Frankie Grande), and a fashionista DJ (Sunny Kim). On top of these painfully accurate caricatures is Bobby (Josh Ovalle), a boy Kurt use to babysit that is now a Pewdiepie-esque popular gamer and Kurt’s own father (David Arquette), who like father like son is also a clout chaser and has always tried to get in with the famous people in LA to live through them. While all of these characters can come across as a bit one dimensional, they fit their purpose in the film, which is to show the different variations of fame.
These characters also lead to some of the funniest points in the film such as Bobby’s charity video where he treats homeless people as pops, which matches pretty much any “charity” video that can be seen on the trending page. The film shows with these caricatures the only real difference they have from Kurt is that they are not murderers; with many of them they are the victims. The only character who begins to see the flaws in this obsession with fame is Jessie, but even she by the end of the film becomes an internet celebrity by managing to survive Kurt’s attack.
One of the biggest highlights of the film however is the editing and direction which presents the film as a series of Youtube videos and live streams where you can see the amount of views, likes and even comments throughout the film. The comments alone provide a great deal of visual comedy with how painfully accurate they are—from comments making fun of Kurt to comments believing everything is a hoax. The film may actually require a second viewing just to read all the comments that pop up on the screen during the livestream portions. Not only is this all visually innovative, but it makes us as the audience feel as though we are participating in the livestream and thus enabling Kurt’s desire of internet stardom.
While the topics of social media and the dangers of striving for internet fame are nothing new, the clever writing and direction of Spree along with the great performances are enough to make it a fun watch. I suggest the film to horror fans especially and anyone who loves an over the top yet scarily accurate portrayal of social media.
Spree is available to stream on Hulu.