It seems like there’s an entire generation out there that just seeks to go viral. Social Media and its positive and/or negative effect on the world is not a new debate, but cinema has certainly begun to chime in on that conversation. Spree, a satire with thriller and even some comedy elements, is just the latest to attempt to do so. The flick, despite a promising concept and a decent beginning/end, quickly becomes a lost cause, much like the main character. Hitting screens both big and small later on this week, it’s an option that likely won’t be your worst potential one, but will undoubtedly not be your best one, either. Whatever promise it contains is squandered over 90 or so meandering minutes.
The movie is a satirical thriller, attempting to highlight the insanity of social media and the influencer lifestyle. That influencer is Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery), who also happens to be a ride share driver for the company Spree. Desperate for internet fame, both as a way of escaping a mediocre existence, as well as to connect to a bigger world, he streams to almost no followers, despite his conviction that he’s putting forth quality content on the @KurtsWorld96 account. Dreaming of going viral, Kurt has finally come up with a fool proof plan, one that will make him the king of streamers. That viral plan? It’s #TheLesson. Outfitting his car with a number of cameras, it soon becomes clear that his scheme centers around drugging and murdering his passengers. As his following slowly grows, a stand up comedian named Jessie Adams (Sasheer Zamata) crosses his path, with unexpected consequences for both. Eugene Kotlyarenko directs a screenplay he co-wrote with Gene McHugh. Jeff Leeds Cohn handles the cinematography. Supporting players include David Arquette, Mischa Barton, Kyle Mooney, and more.
There are hints of much something better here, even if it’s never particularly realized. That’s especially true at the end, when the film’s style is given somewhat of a point. It’s frustrating, too, since a better focus would have done wonders here. Joe Keery is suitably unsettling, while Sasheer Zamata is very solid, but they’re given so little to do, it dulls their effectiveness. The comments on the side of the screen during the streams often are more interesting than what’s going on, plot wise, and that’s a terrible dilution of the material. Keery and Zamata, frankly, never had a fighting chance, let alone wasted supporting cast members like David Arquette, Mischa Barton, John DeLuca, and Kyle Mooney.
Spree has an idea at its core, that’s for sure. It just doesn’t really know what to do with it. That leaves us to ponder filmmaker Eugene Kotlyarenko’s work as little more than a missed opportunity. Kotlyarenko and his co-writer Gene McHugh have an interesting set up, but quickly minutiae and repetition set in. Keery just isn’t allowed to portray a compelling enough character, so you can’t help but wonder what might have been if Kotlyarenko and McHugh had fleshed things out more. Then, we may have had a truly memorable satire, instead of the half baked one we’re left with here.
This weekend, audiences looking for some satire have an option in Spree, but unfortunately it’s not a particularly appealing option. Keery’s fans from Stranger Things might tune in, but they’re likely to be at least a little bit let down. Your mileage may vary, so make of it what you will, but it’s hard not to consider this one a disappointment, all things considered. Alas.
Spree is available in select theaters, drive-ins, on demand, and digital August 14th.
(Photos courtesy of RLJE Films)