Kurt Kunkle wants followers. After ten years of creating scattergun and dreary online content to an audience of basically nil, he suffers a crisis and decides to take drastic action by using his job as a driver for the Uber-like service, Spree, to create some, literally, killer content. He decks out his car with numerous cameras, tampers with some water bottles, dubs his plan #TheLesson and away we go.
Spree is written and directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko, with a producing credit to Drake, and it was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The movie is put together in a found footage style, having supposedly been compiled by fans Kurt gained after his binge of attention-seeking destruction. So, Spree begins with Kurt’s earliest attempts on YouTube at gaining followers through drawing lessons, reviewing vapes’ “mouth feel” and other such inanity while his Dad (David Arquette) occasionally hovers, bewildered, in the background trying to engage his son with the real world.
The premise is timely and has potential. The idea of an inherently awkward kid who lacks the self-awareness needed to build a brand out of himself, wasting his time obsessing over followers, is interesting and heartbreakingly true to life. The way Kurt talks is just a few degrees off-kilter. When trying to impress internet-famous comedian Jessie Adams (Sasheer Zamata), he asks, “Are you a fan of music?” Realising the potential for his murderous brand of live streaming if it were to be tagged on her feed, he tries a sticky charm offensive that unsettles everyone but him, sympathising breathlessly about the many notifications he receives and exclaiming, “I’m as real as you!”
There are some interesting ideas floating about: a lost and lonely kid trying to prosper in a world of cynicism and carefully orchestrated “authenticity”, and the effect of social media saturation on vulnerable users.
Stranger Things’ Joe Keery gives a compelling performance as Kurt: his desperate, clingy faux bonhomie devolving into full-on psycho over the course of the film. He transforms from LA cutie to stringy-haired maniac; his eyes glinting asymmetrically like a homicidal badger in the night vision camera of another ride-share driver who has the misfortune of picking him up.
Despite the promising idea, its split-screen shatters the viewers’ attention and makes the narrative hard to follow. The story lurches about like its psychopathic, anti-hero driver. There are a few decent jump scares and misdirections. Spree is described as a dark comedy, but it is neither comic nor nearly as scary as it could have been. It has a strong lead performance, but its satire is drawn in crayons.
Spree is released nationwide on 14th August 2020.
Watch the trailer for Spree here: