Eugene Kotlyarenko’s timely, cautionary tale about social media's lethal potential is highly watchable but treads familiar ground
There is a quote in Todd Philips’ Joker that feels like the starting block for Spree. At the end of his tether, Arthur Fleck asks, “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?” You might not want to know the answer, but Eugene Kotlyarenko’s black comedy-horror provides one for anyone who does.
Welcome to Kurt’s World, the YouTube channel-cum-Instagram live feed-cum waking nightmare of struggling influencer Kurt Kunkle. It’s the role of a lifetime for Stranger Things star Joe Keery – not because it transcends any kind of toxic white male loser put to screen before, but because it gives the actor the chance to prove his outstanding range.
Positioned somewhere between Nightcrawler, Searching, Joker and even Eighth Grade, Spree takes places exclusively on social media feeds. We’re watching Kurt as he tries to go viral via the cameras he’s set up in his Spree (a fictional proxy to rideshare app Uber), as well as the Instagram and YouTube pages of those who get in his car.
The short-lived thrills of Spree are best appreciated for their shock value, so plot details should remain under wraps. But suffice to say that Kurt will stop at nothing to get more views, and the question of what it might cost to any human being (himself, yes, but also anyone with a beating heart who might make for good content if said heart were to stop) is irrelevant.
Keery elevates the film beyond its relatively derivative narrative with a performance at once dangerous and completely unthreatening. This is the guy we fell in love with for the size of his perfectly coiffed hair on Netflix, after all. Here he strikes a balance between desperate and compelling.
There’s no denying the laser-precise detail on the endless chat feeds that Kotlyarenko uses to fuel the story – Kurt is our only protagonist, but you could count the millions of anonymous messages telling him to fuck, marry, or kill other people as the film's primary antagonist.
It’s unnerving, and often entertaining – and there is a certain awareness about how the reign of the straight white man must end, as Jessie Adams, a Black female stand-up comedian played with convincing likability by Sasheer Zamata, puts Kurt in his place. Still, this is a film powered by straight white men: made by one, starring one, and probably destined to be most embraced by them, too. Arthur Fleck tells us that when crossing a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash, you get what you deserve. In Spree, though, it’s nothing you couldn’t predict.
Spree is available to stream on digital platforms from November 19.Where to watch