Spree Review: A rideshare spin on a serial slasher that takes the genre into the age of social media
Taking the concept of a serial slasher into both the world of social media and in the driver’s seat of a rideshare service, the newest film from writer/director Eugene Kotlyarenko, Spree, is a fresh thrill ride that see Stranger Things star Joe Keery in a sick and twisted new light.
The film follows Kurt (Keery) – a driver for the rideshare service Spree who is determined to gain social media fame at any cost. While he’s had a channel of his own, reviewing vape pens and even trying to collaborate with a highly successful gaming streamer named Bobby (Joshua Ovalle) that he used to babysit, he’s had no luck finding a following of his own. One day, he finally comes up with an idea, called #TheLesson, where he decks out his car with cameras and kills his passengers to get the most amount of views. However, as his viewers as him to up the ante when they don’t believe in what they’re seeing, Kurt takes more dangerous actions that could spell doom for anyone that gets into his car – especially for a rising comedian named Jessie (Sasheer Zamata) who’s large following piques Kurt’s interest.
Kotlyarenko immediately grabs your attention with how he utilizes the different camera angles in Kurt’s car and social media perspectives to fill the screen. The way that the perspective is always moving throughout different areas of the car and even through different passenger’s phones really keeps things visually refreshing. We’re never stuck in a fixed position, so it makes seeing the interactions between Kurt and his passengers more interesting to watch and makes Kurt’s car a more intriguing environment to be in. Not to mention, just the visual look of seeing the cameras around the car is kind of creepy and I love how they move as Kurt opens the car doors and roll down the windows. Kurt’s car is almost like a moving Saw trap for unsuspecting passengers and it’s such a unique setting that’s made even more unsettling with how real it is.
Rideshare services has been incredibly lucrative and utilized by millions of people in the last couple of years. While there’re plenty of normal drivers out there, most people, including myself, have had that creepy or weird driver that’s made you want to get to your destination as fast as possible – as for Kurt, he’s on a whole new level. Just the concept of Kurt taking people to a secluded location to kill them gives off this uncomfortable feeling off entrapment that’s made even more chilling with how gleeful Kurt is about everything. Even how Kurt kills passengers through tampering with water bottles that he offers them comes off like such a vicious betrayal of trust that’s kind of horrifying to think about. It’s certainly not horrifying enough to make anyone never take an Uber or Lyft again, but it’s definitely going to make viewers a little more cautious the next time they call for one.
Even the way social media plays a major role and is presented is incredibly unsettling. When multiple conversations or streams are happening at once, Kotlyarenko will split up the frame to show everything at once and it creates some really great, multilayered storytelling. There’re plenty of moments where this kind of storytelling subverts viewers expectations of what they’re actually seeing and builds this great amount of tension that sucks you into the scene. For instance, there’s a moment where Kurt is arriving at someone’s house and it’s intercut with something happening with Jessie. It’s a great moment that immediately puts you on edge and showcases how well this style really works. This style even allows two distinct actions to take place at once and it creates this compelling dramatic irony where we see something happening that Kurt isn’t even aware of yet.
Kotlyarenko also brings social following not only to life, but also give it a voice as Kurt’s viewers can actually interact with him throughout him enacting #TheLesson. Kotlyarenko definitely did his homework in creating interactions that are pretty authentic to real-life interaction on social media. With the split-screen style, we can actually see comments flooding in as Kurt’s “lesson” becomes more of a viral hit. This interaction is even heightened through donations that people make to his stream that give their comments a voice and it works incredibly well in creating a controlling entity that drives Kurt to go all the way in achieving the fame he desperately desires.
There’s a point in the film where Jessie refers to Kurt’s craving for a following as “sad” and that he’s “begging” for attention and it’s legitimately the perfect way to describe him. Kurt, and really most of the characters, represent the worst in social influencers and it’s kind of what hurts the film in the end. The film definitely has a very cynical view of social media as it basically makes everyone that interacts with an intolerable, annoying, and self-centered douche. There’s definitely something satirically funny and over the top about this depiction of social media stars, especially Bobby and his videos, but it’s hard not to see how meaningless this showing is. It’s a one-sided view of social media that doesn’t allow for a differing view or more friendly view of social media to come into the film. Not everyone uses social media to get fame and fortune. Some just simply use it to stay connected, promote their business, and even just stay connected to the world. However, everyone here is simply egotistical and it boasts this bland hatred of social media that doesn’t have all that much to say.
Even the way it paints followers is even more sadistic as they egg Kurt on to further his blood-fueled actions. Spree depicts what it believes human behavior is in the same way that The Purge movies do, basically that people revert back to their primal instincts of violence and killing when the consequences are stripped away. It’s an all too familiar, uninteresting, and, honestly, unrealistic view of human behavior that doesn’t add much to the film’s depiction of social media and only adds to the film’s mean-spirited and self-absorbed views of social media. Really, the only one with a more humbling social presence that’s likeable is Jessie. As we see her show her fans her grandmother and even have them help her say yes to the right dress before her show, Jessie really becomes the perfect kind of antithesis to many of the wannabe social stars we see throughout the film. She talks to her fans like real people and doesn’t take what they say personally or feel the need to bend to their will.
However, even Jessie eventually succumbs to the film’s views of social media as the end not only kind of ruins her character, but also is just unsatisfying in general. The way that all of the pieces come together is way too convenient and kind of strange in the moment because the film doesn’t give the best direction in terms of where things are taking place. We essentially end up in a location that we’ve seen before, but it’s just kind of strange how we get there. Also, while Jessie definitely gets her moment to be a world-class, kick-ass, bad-ass final girl, it’s diminished by how she basically just turns into the kind of influencer she’s fought against the whole film. There’s even a scene at the end of her comedy show where she fights against social media and this craving for a following, but she basically just tosses it away and the credits make her out to be this fame-hungry person – and it sucks.
Even with lackluster themes and an unsatisfying end, Spree still manages to be a very captivating slasher – thank in major part to the great use of dark comedy and Keery’s incredible performance. With every scene, Keery makes it impossible to look away and makes Kurt’s desperation for likes and views so intriguing to watch. It’s incredibly obvious from the start that Kurt has none of the social cues to be a successful social star as he’s constantly pleading for fans and bending to their will at every turn for their attention. It’s even crazier to see the lengths that he goes in order to get famous and it’s one of the more captivating qualities about him because you’re left unsure of what he’ll do next. Even for Kurt being truly unlikable and awful, Keery still manages to make you interested in him and even kind of feel bad for him.
It definitely helps that Keery has some great dark comedy to work with and the more cringeworthy aspects of Kurt’s personality and horrific elements of the situation end up being kind of funny. From Kurt childishly critiquing how Jessie streams to her fans to how he’s constantly trying to plug his channel on everyone that steps into his car, there’re some satirical comedy that helps lighten a good chunk of hatred towards social media. Frankly, the wildness of the film and Kurt’s journey to go viral are what make Spree such an entertaining watch for most of the film. Not to mention, when you have an SNL alum like Zamata on board, you know she brings some strong comedy of her own and she’s truly one of the big bright spots, outside of Keery, that Spree has to offer.
Perhaps #TheLesson of Spree is that blatant hate and annoying representations doesn’t create unique or intriguing themes on social media, but Kotlyarenko definitely creates one of the strongest surprises of 2020. Where the film lacks thematic freshness, it more than makes it up in its incredible style that makes social media kind of it’s own character, some entertaining thrills that keep you hooked, and a top-tier performance from Keery that makes you see him in a much more twisted form.