Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 7, 2020)
Back in 2019, Stuber offered an action comedy that revolved around the use of rideshare services. With 2020’s Spree, we get a horror thriller that uses these transportation options as a primary theme.
23-year-old Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery) drives for the rideshare company Spree, but he entertains delusions of social media grandeur. This leaves Kurt desperate to find a way to “go viral” online.
After many failed attempts, Kurt comes up with a devious plan: he’ll livestream a series of murders that he enacts while he drives. This doesn’t go as anticipated, so Kurt finds himself with a mix of complications.
Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but as a 53-year-old, the concept of the “social media influencer” perplexes me. Someone goes to get a can of Coke and this offers entertainment? Color me befuddled.
Spree attempts to satirize that world, though it does so in a scattershot manner that only occasionally hits the mark. Certainly, the domain of social media excess makes sense for this kind of barbed tale, but the filmmakers can’t quite deliver the desired impact.
Really, Spree exists more as a concept than a full-fledged story, though its use of social media streams to tell the tale gives it a decent spin. We already saw something similar via 2018’s Searching, a movie that used smartphone and laptop cameras to tell its narrative.
That gimmick feels more organic for Spree because it revolves around the world of social media. At its heart, Searching told a conventional thriller that used the online content as a twist, whereas Spree focuses much more on this kind of material, so the stylistic choice seems more apt.
Spree coordinates the elements pretty well, though it can throw a lot at the viewer. We occasionally find ourselves with three active livestreams on-screen at the same time, and that can make it a bit tough to take in all the info, especially because each segment offers “viewer text” as well.
While this works as a replication of the way social media works, it can overwhelm the movie audience. Granted, it never becomes all that important to read every little comment, as those exist more as atmosphere, but the tri-screen presentation tends to seem like a lot to take.
Still, I like the overall concept. While I do view the decision to show all the action through smartphone cameras remains a gimmick, it becomes a logical one for this tale.
That said, Spree does tend to rely on its concept to do the heavy lifting, as the filmmakers find it difficult to locate much of a story beyond the basic idea. “Young man uses social media crime spree for fame” offers potential, but the flick doesn’t explore it in a particularly deep manner.
How much of the movie focuses on social commentary varies, but the theme persists, and it hits us over the head too bluntly to succeed. This reaches its nadir when standup comic Jessie Adams (Sasheer Zamata) does a routine that exists just to denounce online media.
This grinds the film to a halt so it can make a point. That happens at other points in the film as well, though not to the same eye-rolling degree.
In addition to its critique of online media, Spree also acts as a black comedy and satire. Those elements occasionally connect, but they also can seem overdone and heavy-handed.
Partly this occurs because Kurt’s plan seems so far-fetched. Granted, that seems like part of the joke, as Kurt becomes so obsessed with social media fame that he doesn’t worry about the fact he’ll almost certainly wind up dead or incarcerated as a result.
Even if we accept the satirical side, Kurt’s idiocy makes the movie a stretch to swallow. We view Kurt as such a dope that the narrative loses some impact.
Despite these awkward elements, Spree stays watchable much of the time, partly because of the cast. Keery does well as our lead, as he makes Kurt into the kind of desperate, deluded schlub who thinks he’ll achieve Internet stardom via a slew of crackpot ideas.
The rest of the actors get less to do, but we find enough talent to bolster the film’s bottom line. Very good in The Weekend, Zamata makes less of an impact here in her underwritten role, but she still brings authority to the part, and David Arquette offers good work in his small turn as Kurt’s dad.
I have to regard Spree as a disappointment, for it doesn’t click on a consistent basis. Nonetheless, it comes with enough punch across its short running time that it becomes a reasonably watchable effort despite its flaws.