Spree is available to rent or buy.
All eyes on me; I want to be seen!
At what point does the need for popularity become addictive and dangerous, and at what point does our reality become a self-created fantasy in our 24/7 online world? These questions have never been more challenging to unpick in a world of viral videos, likes, blogs, instant messaging and sharing. Over the past ten years, our online presence has become linked to our sense of identity and self-worth. It’s a world where most of us have bought into the social media dream but rarely ask whether it makes us happier, healthier, or more connected to others. Over the years, several horrors and thrillers have attempted to reflect this new world, but few have found the distinctive voice of Spree.
Kurt (Joe Keery) has spent his entire life online, his video channel KurtsWorld96 acting as an online diary of his ambitions to become a social-media celebrity and influencer. However, there is one big problem, Kurt only has a handful of subscribers, and despite his dedication to the site, his followers aren’t going up. To rub salt in the wound, a kid Kurt used to babysit already has thousands of followers, product tie-ins and fans. But Kurt is not about to give up or walk away, and he has a new idea that, if done right, could propel him to online stardom overnight. What is this idea, I hear you ask? Kurt is about to livestream his job as a spree driver under the title ‘The Lesson,’ but there’s a lot more to this sinister livestream than a mere in-cab discussion, as Kurt desperately seeks to increase his followers at any cost.
Director Eugene Kotlyarenkon’s Spree is a highly creative dissection of our modern obsession with social media as seen through the eyes of a young man whose life has no meaning without a like, follow or share. Here it’s the razor-sharp performance of Joe Keery that makes Spree tick in an intelligent and darkly humourous exploration of the foundations of internet fame and our passive consumption of other people’s lives online.
From the outset, Kurt clearly feels left behind in his treasured online world. But Kurt is also lost offline, an outsider with no friends and no real life. He is a non-player character, desperately searching for a story, meaning and mission. Kurt blames society, his parents and those who have achieved success for his lack of progress but hides these feelings behind a smile as he lurches toward disaster. He is the boy next door who can no longer differentiate between his created online persona and the real man he has become.
As we enter Kurt’s world and watch his descent into darkness, he is moulded by a desperate need for attention and a newfound mission to grow his followers through violence. But his first murders attract no one to his stream, encouraging him to go further for the coveted audience he longs to build. Here Kotlyarenkon never allows us to view Kurt as a simple villain. Instead, he asks us to look at the boy imprisoned in the young man’s body and his fear of rejection, unpopularity and alienation. But Kotlyarenkon also asks us to reflect on the online world we have all helped to build and its role in creating Kurt and his final push for online popularity. Here, the cruelty of anonymous posts, the pack instinct of human behaviour, our desperate need for validation and the ability to hide behind our phones are all explored as Spree slowly pulls bricks from the unstable social media and tech tower.
Filmed entirely on phones and dashcams, Spree places the audience in the role of the content-guzzling followers Kurt seeks to impress. Here, Kotlyarenkon reflects on the work of director Michael Haneke as he holds us partly responsible for Kurt’s ever-increasing need for attention and bloodlust. It’s a brave move and doesn’t always work, but Spree is incredibly sharp in its social commentary when it does. Here the bravery of Kotlyarenkon’s movie is impressive as it unpicks just how lonely our new tech-dominated world can be for those who feel let down and alienated in a world where social media and tech are now tied to our sense of self-worth.