Okay, so I didn’t intend to watch another social media commentary movie, but uh, here we are. “Spree” is a 2020 dark comedy horror movie starring Joe Keery of Stranger Things fame and Sasheer Zamata, who did a three-year stint on SNL. The entire thing is shot primarily using phone cameras, dash cams, security cameras, and webcams, and cut together from there, sometimes using multiple feeds on screen at once to create tension or provide context. All of it comes together in this dark, comedic, unsettling, real-life thriller experience.
Joe Keery and Sasheer Zamata are both giving their performances a lot of effort, and they sell a ton of scenes on just that alone. Zamata’s stand up scene is really good, likely stemming from her history as a comedian, and it delivers the message of the film on top of that. What shocked me more, however, was Keery as the unstable, socially awkward Spree-driver-turned-murderer Kurt. I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever seen him as Steve Harrington, who’s a natural charmer and won over audiences in both Season 1 and 2 of Stranger Things by going from a jerk with a heart to one of the most decent, well intentioned characters on the show. Seeing him totally embody the stereotype of the awkward loner who wants to be charismatic and popular was chilling, and the dissonant serenity he has during his kills contrasts his awkward behavior in other situations, selling the image of a calculated but inexperienced millennial killer.
Indeed, a lot of what works so well about Spree centers on Keery and his performance. He isn’t the only one putting in work – Zamata does a great job – but considering the movie is centered on him and his story, it really needed the kind of performance Keery brought. Everything that works so well, be it the realistic livestream or the tense moments before a kill, is revolving around Keery. Even the other characters he interacts with are more so just playing off of him and his actions; they have a stereotype to fill and Keery plays off of it and into it.
Honestly, there isn’t much that’s really “bad” about Spree, but where it suffers is in a certain lack of… excitement? That’s not the word, but I don’t know how to describe it in just a “word”. Everything is more or less coming together, the acting is good, the premise is well executed, and the themes are cohesive and well done in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It’s in those less subtle moments, or in the stereotyped performances delivered by extremely minor characters, that the entire thing falls flat. It’s less about anything being “bad”, and more so a death of a thousand cuts.
There’s, once again, not a ton here to talk about, but there’s a commitment to the premise that I find to be pretty cool. I would have to say that 99% of the movie is shot either from webcam, phone, or livestream viewpoints. The “subtlety” of the livestream chat is reinforced by just how accurate it feels to real-life high-population chat rooms. In fact, in looking up background info, I found out that the director, Eugene Kotlyarenko, and Keery spent hours both watching and creating influencer-style content to get a feeling both for the character of Kurt and the culture of social media they were setting out to satire and critique. Along the same lines, the ending sequence – showing the aftermath of Kurt’s “spree” going viral – hits almost too close to home, showing a disturbingly real depiction of how people on sites like 4chan treat individuals like Kurt. Chilling, and effective.
This section is going to serve a different purpose than usual, where it’s typically where I point out social issues, political issues, or other background information that doesn’t directly impact the quality of a work, but more so the context surrounding it. It’s the segment where I try to reunite the creator’s and their world with the work itself, since I think experiencing things both in and out of context is important – and here it’s different.
Spree isn’t a decidedly “graphic” film, although the deaths and methods used range from disturbing to outright gruesome. What really drives the horror of Spree is part of what I touched on in the Awesome section; it feels like it could be real. Sometimes, it almost feels gratuitously real, to the point where I’d suggest people who’re already anxious about the concept of an Uber, or really just the dark side of social media and the climb to the top should stay away from this, as I feel it could create some level of extra paranoia in people that is unwarranted; the movie plays Kurt’s life as being one that’s entirely normal right up until he starts killing, and some people might see a bit too much of themselves or those around them in him. It’s like No More Heroes and Travis Touchdown, but instead of Travis being more of a hero than a sociopath, Kurt is a full on psychopathic killer and not someone anyone should idolize, even if Keery is giving an insane performance. You have been warned.
Spree is a dark, bloody, comedic and shockingly real film that does some things really well, but others are just… okay. Nothing about it is particularly bad, but not much beyond the performances from the leads and clear effort put into capturing “social media” is particularly great either. Considering it’s only about an hour and a half, and you can watch it on Hulu with no added subscription, it’s worth a chance – if only for how strong the core of the film is.
Check out the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA1vTNMWMe4
I also have a review of Guns Akimbo, another social media critique, here.