If you're anything like me in 2020, your screen time hours have gone through the roof. Our lives, through convenience and pandemic-related reasons, are becoming increasingly technology-based, which in turn has led to a slew of "new-age" digital thrillers such as 'Host', 'Searching' and the 'Unfriended' series, all of which play out as if they are on your laptop screen. 'Spree', the latest film in this subgenre, takes this concept to a new level by presenting the film through different apps and websites. It's a fun idea that unfortunately doesn't fully pay off, no matter how much fun the cast appears to be having.
Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery, TV's 'Stranger Things') is a lonely and desperate driver for rideshare app Spree. His desperation to go viral is exacerbated by Bobby (Josh Ovalle, 'Minimum Max'), a boy Kurt used to babysit, who has found internet fame in his own right. Taking place over the course of a single day, 'Spree' tracks Kurt's dangerous and violent last attempt to go viral - all of which is livestreamed.
The fact that there isn't an awful lot of meat on the bone of 'Spree's' plot makes for the perfect opportunity to explore the plethora of social issues the film both touches on and attempts to satirise. Unfortunately, such an analysis of any of these ideas is shallow at every turn. I don't want to point fingers for this, but I can't help but feel like this is the result of Drake-founded production team DreamCrew (TV's 'Euphoria') having a hand in this film (Drake also serves as Executive Producer). This feels like exactly the kind of flashy production Drake would smear his name all over, attempting to look deep by saying, "Hey, maybe too much internet is bad?" but never going any further with the idea than that.
In many ways, 'Spree' traverses the same thematic material as 2017's 'Ingrid Goes West', instead forgoing 'Ingrid's' exploration of the relationship between social media and mental health in the interest of upping the energy and violent moments. It's a shame, since the timing of 'Spree's release is the perfect opportunity to skewer the idea of internet fame when it is arguably at its most powerful. The film's toughest-to-watch moments have nothing to do with the increasingly graphic bloodshed; it's watching Kurtis' pathetic pleas for a DJ with ten times his following to tag in him in her Instagram story.
'Spree' feels like exactly the kind of flashy and shallow production Drake would smear his name all over in an attempt to look deep.
Despite my reservations regarding DreamCrew's input, I also feel like this no doubt assisted the film in getting permission to use actual website interfaces such as Instagram, rather than making up a slew of fictitious new apps specifically for the film. With a few exceptions here and there (the most glaring being the Spree app itself), the film is as an authentic cinematic take on an online experience as you can get. It adds to the horror and realism of the film, the events of which don't really feel that removed from potentially occurring in real life at all.
Though not officially based on real-life serial killer Elliot Roger, the parallels between Kurt's content and Roger's online persona are uncanny. Here, however, Kurt is far more concerned with internet fame than his own involuntary celibacy, and the true highlight of 'Spree' is just how much fun Joe Keery seems to be having. Despite his tech-savviness, Keery brings an extra dimension of innocence, as if the social media world Kurt so desperately wants to be a part of demands things from him that he doesn't quite understand yet. Sasheer Zamata ('I Feel Pretty') is similarly fantastic in her supporting role as Jessie, a stand-up comedian with a large online following. She is, in many ways, the antithesis of everything Kurt thinks he needs to be to make it big; despite seeming "natural", everything about Jessie's professional persona feels crafted to the point where she can simply switch off from social media without personal repercussion. Kurt, who has tied his self-image and worth so indelibly to the likes and interactions of complete strangers behind a screen, simply cannot do this.
As much as I wish 'Spree' would try to have its cake and eat it too by going deeper with its satire (and it is possible to do a black comedy that explores deep societal issues), on the surface it is an equally fun and bleak look at a young man driven to insanity by his own hubris. It's just a shame the surface is all there is to it.