“If you’re not documenting yourself, you just don’t exist.” We are now living in an era where everyone is either online themselves or tuned in to others; there is no such thing as existing completely offline, it is an integral aspect of our lives that is a breeding ground for so much good and a vast web that connects us to everyone across the world in a way we could have only dreamed of generations ago. On the other hand, in a world that has turned virtual, so much importance has been placed on being seen and setting yourself apart from the rest by carving out your own special niche. With the rise of monetising social media platforms as a way of turning yourself into a “brand” and new ways to stream your daily life to viewers, some people will go to extreme lengths with the hopes of becoming the next big thing. Joe Keery stars as Kurt Kunkle, a young man who is so obsessed with becoming a social media sensation that he is willing to cross any line to do so, in Eugene Kotlyarenko’s Spree, which premiered at this year’s 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Kurt has been live-streaming and uploading video content to an almost nonexistent audience for quite a while. Frustrated, Kurt even attempts to use Bobby (Josh Ovalle)—a boy he used to babysit who has since become an Internet star with a loyal following, to promote his own live-stream as a way to gain views for himself. With no success in sight, Kurt uses his job working as a driver for the ride-share app called Spree to start his new live-stream titled, “The Lesson” that will teach viewers how to achieve fame on social media, but it soon becomes obvious that Kurt’s intentions for this live-stream and his ride-share passengers are far more wicked.
Keery is absolutely, bone-chillingly frightening in Spree, not just because of the atrocious acts he’s committing, but the way he acts with a complete disregard for human life as his quest for fame takes top priority. Keery plays Kurt as so nonchalant about what he is doing and there is no slight hesitation, but only a desperation to get what he wants by any means possible. Keery brings to life everyone’s worst nightmare when they use one of these vehicles for hire, bringing out the fear of entrusting a stranger with your life. The entirety of the film you feel as if you have been forcefully strapped into his vehicle as you are taken along for a relentless joy ride, with Keery in the driver’s seat looking at you with lifeless eyes and a crazed, satisfied smile. Sasheer Zamata as Jessie Adams is also incredible in this film: Zamata is quick-witted and hilarious, at times even stealing the spotlight from Keery as she becomes a character to root for. Quite frankly, an entire film just focusing on Jessie Adams is something we badly need.
There have been many films that have come out recently highlighting the culture surrounding social media and telling stories through these mediums, such as computer screen films, that, if done right, hit very close to home for most of us. Spree is an addition to these films that chooses to exaggerate this obsession with achieving Internet fame, and the result is terrifying because it’s not far off from reality. Every day we see more and more people record themselves doing awful things for views, and in order to stay relevant, they have to continue to surpass their last stunt, and this is essentially what Kurt is doing in Spree but taken to another level. Viewers are complacent in this, as we find it hard to look away from people terrorising others, egging people on to do the next crazy thing, and somehow the guilt of encouraging this behaviour is absolved because it’s just on a computer screen. Surely, it can’t be real, it must be some sick joke someone is doing for views. Spree preys upon this disbelief that a person live-streaming could actually do these things because so often people indeed carry out shocking, fake pranks for the sake of entertaining their viewers.
Spree is an extremely effective horror film that will leave you staring in disbelief Keery throwing up a peace sign to his camera before terrorising his passengers. It is dark and even funny at times, in a way that will make you feel uncomfortable for laughing. This feeling of being a culpable onlooker is brought out as we witness Kurt commit these acts and watch as viewers make light of what he’s doing, since the entire perspective of the film is shot as if we are taking part in his live-stream too.
Spree is available in select cinemas and on VOD now
by Alysha Prasad
Alysha Prasad (she/her) is an aspiring freelance writer who is going to be pursuing her Master’s Degree in Film and Television at DePaul University in Chicago. Her favorite films include: Call Me By Your Name, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Before Sunset. You can find her on Twitter at @leeshprasad.