Debuting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Spree is the latest dark comedy to set its sights on our social media-obsessed culture, zeroing in on the influencers who make a living displaying their “authentic” lives to rabid followers. While the film’s satirical spin may not offer intricate nuances to the subject matter, it delivers a breathless thrill ride with a deliciously sinister spin.
Spree follows Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery), a wannabe influencer who’s spent years of his life striving for fame. Dissatisfied with his progress, Kurt sets a plan to draw new viewers in from his job as a ride-share driver, with his obsession for attention leading down a deadly path.
While many are likely to compare Spree to other psychotic thrillers (Nightcrawler, American Psycho, and Joker come to mind), this film thankfully develops its own voice from its familiar trappings. Indie craftsman Eugene Kotlyarenko pushes the envelope with a pulsating sense of tension and pace, embracing a handheld camerawork style that fittingly encapsulates its subject matter while being conveyed with aplomb technical ability (genuinely happy to see the long-awaited revival of the found footage subgenre, with the film featuring a succinct combination of phone, dashboard, and security cameras that never feels gimmicky). Spree’s relentless 93 minute running time rarely lets up, portraying Kurt’s dizzying mission by properly escalating the mania at hand.
For as twisted Spree gets, Kotlyarenko’s script never forgets its finite sense of purpose. His searing portrait of the social media generation aptly criticizes the vapid behavior that drives people, observing how many promote themselves for clicks and followers over substantive dynamics. A well-incorporated satirical bend often mines laugh-out-loud moments from these portrayals, as Kotlyarenko flexes an astute understanding of how our culture operates (most the biggest laughs come from the minute details, whether it’s Kurt’s testing vapes in his try-hard vlogs or his bizarre EDM SoundCloud playlist).
The comedic first half quickly turns dour as Kurt’s victims expand past cringe-worthy millennial types, with the writer/director thankfully taking to task the deplorable extremes many undertake to reach worldwide fame. I particularly enjoyed the film’s criticism of self-entitled loners who blame their failures on the world around them, serving as a prime reflection of the white privilege that motivated several recent mass murders. These tonalities could feel desperate in the wrong hands, yet Joe Keery’s energetic performance ties the material together seamlessly. As Kurt, Keery unearths a demented lust for attention that’s always grounded in a sense of humanity, never allowing the character to drift into caricature territory.
Spree is always captivating to watch, yet I can’t help feeling some of its dramatic potential was left untapped. Kotlyarenko’s script can read as sanctimonious at times, spelling out its intended message with third act speeches that have the characters turn into ciphers for the screenwriter. I also wish the film did more to give Kurt’s character an arc, with a quick opening montage failing to display his transition from an earnest creator to a deranged killer (it’s clear the character is a byproduct of his conditions, but those elements come off as mere window dressing).
Spree’s abrasive style offers a darkly alluring condemnation of influencer culture driven by a career-best performance from Joe Keery.
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