This assessment was initially printed along with Spree’s premiere on the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It has been up to date and republished along with the movie’s launch by digital VOD rental platforms.
Logline: Desperate for subscribers, a clumsy younger man turns his ride-share automobile right into a livestream loss of life entice.
Longerline: In an introduction to his scuzzy, thriller-comedy Spree, writer-director Eugene Kotlyarenko (Wobble Palace) warned Sundance-goers to show off their telephones — partially out of courtesy, however largely to keep away from confusion. The vérité-style romp cuts between Instagram feeds, physique cams, and the angle of a Carpool Karaoke-style automobile rig to create a maelstrom of display screen time. In the vein of Unfriended or Searching, Kotlyarenko traps viewers within the suffocating screens of on a regular basis life, then stretches the constraints of the format by staging violent mayhem.
From starting to finish, Kurt (Stranger Things’ Joe Keery) is glued to his telephone, hoping the subsequent video will skyrocket his on-line model Kurt’s World to the highest of social charts. But Kurt is adrift and maladjusted, and doesn’t have that sure one thing to captivate an viewers along with his documented day-to-day actions. So he ditches the vlogging for what he dubs “#TheLesson,” a fool-proof plan to achieve followers. The gist: commit tons and plenty of homicide. And his victims come to him, hailing the serial killer to varied corners of Los Angeles utilizing the Uber-adjacent app Spree.
As Kurt turns into extra determined for engagement (“SMASH THAT SUBSCRIBE BUTTON … LINK IN THE BIO”), his stunts turn into extra grotesque. Each passing rider — everybody from a buttoned-up white supremacist to Mischa Barton — cranks the vice of Kurt’s psychological state. Though he by no means loses his chipper, vlogger veneer, a comic who makes going viral look straightforward (SNL’s Sasheer Zamata) and a teen prankster with a captivated viewers (Vine star Josh Ovalle) lastly ship him off the rails. Kotlyarenko mirrors the breakdown by fast crosscutting and three-way vertical split-screen. It’s a comedy.
The quote that claims all of it: “Hey, how did you develop your following?”
What’s it making an attempt to do? If Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker found Snapchat as a substitute of face paint, he might have wound up within the driver’s seat of Spree. Kurt is a well-meaning dweeb caught within the well-documented vortex of social media, and whereas his actions are reprehensible, the film portrays him as a sufferer of circumstance. His mother and father are divorced, he has no evident mates, and the unchecked algorithms of Silicon Valley product put worms in his mind. White male privilege may be the issue that pushed him to embark on a killing spree over, say, logging off and taking a nap, however Spree doesn’t put the reason in blunt phrases. Like Arthur Fleck, Rupert Pumpkin, and different twisted protagonist ancestors, Kurt merely follows the voices in his head — plus the a whole bunch of others that begin piling up within the remark part when his livestream does begin getting observed.
Does it get there? Considering how heavy that sounds, there’s not an excessive amount of underneath the floor of Kurt’s violent experience. Kotlyarenko retains Spree from turning into a present-set Black Mirror by choosing jokes over profound moments of psychological dissection. The result’s a film gushing with gags and some moments that get too actual for its personal good. Killing a clichéd Los Angeles club-goer with a motorized drill is wacky! Brutal gun violence baked into an emoji-filled livestream will get a bit uncomfortable. Luckily, the tonal whiplash is uncommon for Spree, which zips from vignette to vignette on the again of an all-in efficiency.
Keery’s tackle Kurt is firmly within the “mumbling, overly confident, fame-chasing Kyle Mooney character” household (which is additional humorous as a result of Mooney finally reveals up in Spree). Armed with the tics of a knock-off Logan Paul, the actor dominates the confined house of the homicide sedan with exaggerated, in-your-face antics. And he by no means provides up on the act, even when probably the most despicable passengers problem him from the again seat. The YouTube-devouring, under-30 crowd will respect the cringey nuance of Keery’s efficiency probably the most, however the physicality demanded by the discovered footage model — enjoying to the automobile cameras, dealing with the iPhone — is gripping and transcendent. Kotlyarenko additionally presents Zamata room to carry out her comedy, soar into the motion, and sick burn losers left and proper. The dynamic pair retains the movie revving even when the gore begins feeling repetitive.
What does that get us? A horror-laced comedy that barrels ahead with a full tank of fuel. Spree isn’t scary (although a glimpse into Kurt’s proliferating 4chan fandom is completely terrifying), however it’s wildly entertaining. Between Extremely Online life and Keery’s relentless efficiency, Kotlyarenko wrings each ounce of comedy out of a premise that might simply be “ok boomer”-ed out of the room by crucial eyes who know their YouTube. People who uncover Spree won’t ever hear the phrase “content” the identical method ever once more.
The most meme-able second: The opening, a collection of Kurt’s horrible “Hey guys” vlogs. There will quickly be a brand new vocabulary for dunking on social media stars, they usually all contain Joe Keery.