In general, I think it is important to take a risk every now and again in order to discover new things you may enjoy. Part of why I started Readers Digested and why I write reviews is in allegiance to that sentiment. As I have aged, I have become busier and more easily dissuaded from films I might otherwise have watched had I more opportunity to do so. Sometimes I look back at the reviews I wrote in 2014 and how I wrote reviews about films like Vampire Academy, Endless Love, and The Other Woman, and I wonder how I ever justified that to myself. That’s the difference from when you have all the time in the world versus when you have a day job and other responsibilities you have to think about. Spree is a film that was not on my radar, carrying a lukewarm reception and miniscule fanfare, but I decided to take a chance on it anyways. Sometimes you have to take a blind leap of faith. Honestly, I consider it a responsibility I bestow upon myself with Readers Digested. I want interesting horror films and so, I have to be willing to take chances on them, support them, and share my opinion about them, because, if not me and the other bloggers that support the smaller stuff, who will?
Without further ado, Spree is a black comedy horror film directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko, and executive-produced by Drake (not exactly the underdog my proceeding paragraph suggested, but, I digress). The film’s cast comprises itself of names like Joe Keery, Sasheer Zamata, David Arquette, Kyle Mooney and Mischa Barton. Of them, horror fans will recognize Joe from Stranger Things and David from his role as Dewey in the Scream series. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and was released theatrically and on video on-demand in the United States on August 14, 2020, by RLJE Films.
As the promotional cover suggests, Joe Keery’s character is comparable to that of Christian Bale’s character in American Psycho. The protagonist Kurt Kunkle is a victim of the digital age, as it were. More than anything in the world, Kirk wants to be a social-media influencer like the ones on TikTok, Instagram, etcetera. Unfortunately, thus far, his best efforts have fallen short of that. Kirk becomes a ride-hail driver for a company called Spree (which is comparable to something like Uber, for instance), and decks out his vehicle with flashy lights and cameras. All’s well, until his intentions unveil themselves – Kurt is killing his passengers and making a spectacle out of it. As the film unfolds, so too does his greater plan and the realization by onlookers that his streams are not the faux attempts at going viral they perceive them as.
Although implementing social media into a film’s plot, or even its cinematography, is nothing we have not seen experimented with in other films, I would argue the results have usually been lukewarm at best. So too are they lukewarm in how they are incorporated in this film, I am afraid. The best way to describe the camerawork in Spree is to call it cumbersome and sporadic. Some people might encourage that it is a gonzo style satire, but, more often than not, the frenetic nature never accomplishes much else than inciting confusion and its own gimmickry. The online chatroom reeling its head into the film, at best, feels like a shoddy novelty, or, at worst, feels cringeworthy and phony.
This is Joe Keery’s film, and, with his performance, he elevates the worst traits of the film. His character feels cringeworthy as well, but, the only difference is, that feels intentional and like a part of his portrayal. Kurt can be seen throwing up “peace signs,” and “dabbing,” at any moment, accomplishing a quiet disturbance that does feel comparable to Bale’s portrayal of Patrick Bateman. During an interview, Bale referenced seeing a segment with Tom Cruise that acted as inspiration. Paraphrasing, Bale stated that Tom Cruise had an extreme kindness with nothing behind the eyes. I think that would apply a lot to Joe Keery’s portrayal of Kurt Kunkle in this film. Kurt feels like someone wearing a person suit and mimicking the behaviors that seem like they will lead to what he wants, without any true sincerity behind them. That’s a cool idea, I think, and I like the way that was portrayed.
The characters and the concepts, on the other hand, feel a little too unpolished and rough-around-the-edges to buy into. Every character, particularly Sasheer Zamata‘s portrayal as Jessie Adams, feels unlikable and like they are on the attack, when I feel they should have been reeled in to create a better contrast to the unhinged Kurt Kunkle. I also think had they been more subdued, it would have made the payoff feel more interesting, and less jarring and unearned.
The storyline fails at offering Kurt Kunkle more than superficial, one-dimensional motivation, which I could have accepted had they fleshed out other facets about the film. The criticism of social-media is shallow, but, in the same breath, I did not need it to be insightful. Instead, I merely think they could have fleshed out the story beats, let them breathe, and bolden them. For instance, there’re certain scenes like Kurt explaining how to spike a bottle of water, and I liked that. I feel like they could have had more about his preparation and the significance of his actions. The film is so busily concerned with the loud, more abrasive moments that I feel like it misses out on a lot of the quieter, more intimate moments that could have made the film compelling and suspenseful, similar to something like Creep. Instead of frivolous side-plots, I would have liked to have seen more suspense and development of this supposed “Rideshare Serial Killer,” but, instead, that’s not what we have with this film.
I can’t say I recommend Spree in fullness, but I do believe there is enjoyment to be had – particularly Joe Keery’s performance. The camerawork and gimmickry detriments it, and the storyline and characters surrounding him feel one-dimensional and like archetypes, but I don’t think you’ll be grossly disappointed if you decide to rent this film.
Rating: – 2.5 out of 5.0