At the risk of ageing myself slightly, there’s a song I remember being popular when I was about 19. ‘Internet Friends’ by the Australian electro-house duo Knife Party is a cautionary tale about cyber stalking, and culminates in the line “You blocked me on Facebook, and now you’re going to die”. This came to mind while I was watching Eugene Kotlyarenko’s Spree, about a disillusioned twentysomething who seems dead-set on fame at any cost. Nine years later, our collective anxiety around the potential fallout from the prevalence of social media shows no sign of abating.
Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery) is a streaming obsessive with virality on his mind. All he wants is to be the next streaming sensation; while he ostensibly works as a driver for the popular ride-share app Spree, it’s really just a means to produce more content for his channel. The car is rigged with cameras and he livestreams trips with his passengers in hopes of catching some good material for ‘Kurt’s World’. Mostly, he’s just trolled by Bobby, a kid he used to babysit who has become a popular prankster on social media. Realising he needs to up the stakes if he’s going to get noticed, Kurt decides to get a little more cut-throat in his approach. Things quickly take a turn for the murderous.
Given Kurt’s all-consuming desire to stream, it makes sense that Kotlyarenko employs the ‘screenlife’ gimmick which has found popularity in recent years thanks to the likes of the Unfriended films. Of course, Covid-19 has made audiences even more accustomed to sitting slack-jawed in front of their laptop or mobile phone; one of the big viral hits of 2020 was the video conferencing horror film Host, filmed during lockdown. But a gimmick is still a gimmick, and it’s a pleasant surprise that Kotlyarenko manages to link together YouTube videos, Instagram posts, livestreams and screensharing in an authentic but genuinely entertaining way.
It helps that his lead actor is a magnetic presence. Even when playing a character who seems to have crawled out of the deepest, darkest depths of Reddit, Keery is charismatic enough to easily carry the film, which wisely doesn’t take itself too seriously and recognises the inherent absurdity of our current technological moment without feeling too much like it’s railing against The Youth Of Today. It wouldn’t work without Keery, who manages to flip from dorky wannabe to Patrick Bateman-esque psychopath on a moment’s notice.
If there’s supposed to be some sort of social critique at play amid the rising body count, it gets lost among the mash-up of genres and stylistic concept. Plenty of killers have committed atrocities in the pursuit of fame, so Kurt is hardly unique – if anything, it feels as though the film is reluctant to make his motivations too complex. Precious few of us need reminding that there are some incredibly dark corners of the internet out there, where bloodsport is very much alive and well, but Spree feels more interested in sending up the Logan Pauls and Shane Dawsons of the world than delving into the annals of actual extremism.
It does, however, make a compelling case for being nicer to your Uber driver; every passenger Kurt encounters is unpleasant, to the extent you can almost understand his homicidal rage. What Spree doesn’t quite seem to realise, however, is that it could also tackle the exploitative nature of the rideshare economy. Instead, the film is too fixated on its ‘fame at all costs’ satirical bent.
Aren’t we over the screenlife gimmick yet?
Joe Keery should be in more films.
Not as smart as it could be, but an entertaining ride.
Source of the article : New feed at Spree