Sundance 2020: Internet Streaming Killer Film 'Spree' is Intense Ride
by Alex Billington
January 30, 2020
We're driving ourselves insane! Spree is a wild ride of a film that takes that sentence and makes it literal - we follow a young rideshare app driver who gets addicted to internet popularity and goes on a crazy killing spree. It's the definitive "HOLY F**K" film of Sundance 2020, which is really a big compliment considering it's audacious and innovative and has an important message driving it. Spree is the most authentic, accurate villain origin story of these modern times - even moreso than Joker, which is a fair reference though they're quite different. It's an extremely brutally honest cautionary tale that thrilled the hell out of me. This is the kind of innovative, provocative film I love stumbling across at Sundance, and I'm glad it played at the fest.
Spree is the name of the rideshare app that Kurt Kunkle, played perfectly by Joe Keery, uses to make extra money. The story is told entirely through screens - it's the next great evolution in screen-based filmmaking following Searching (from Sundance 2018), Timur Bekmambetov's Profile (also in 2018), and the original short film Noah that started it all. The film utilizes a wide variety of various screens - including streaming video, various GoPro cameras, other found footage / CCTV footage, cell phone screens & apps, and plenty more. This allows us to become immersed in Kurt's digital world and understand exactly how it has begun to warp his mind. After creating a streaming channel and uploading videos for years, without anyone caring or watching, he finally comes up with an idea called "#TheLesson" and heads out around Los Angeles, picking people up, killing them with poisoned water, then dumping them out before finding another random victim.
Why is he doing this? What's the point? There is a point. There definitely is. And it may come across heavy-handed and bothersome to some, but it's a very important message. I really think this film will be seriously misunderstood by people who just don't get it. Because it's so REAL and it's scary as hell to realize that and accept that this is how things are and understand the very seriously honest points the film is making. The internet is a wild place, and when people get completely sucked into it, once they get lost in the fame & glory & popularity of clicks and viewers and tips and tokens and stars and likes, it distorts their perception of reality. Letting this go on too long, without any reasonable consequences, results in the creation of mad men like Kurt Kunkle. It is a cautionary tale, a film that is hoping teach us a lesson by watching this guy go mad.
It's supposed to be an entertaining comedy, but my heart was racing, and I was extremely nervous the entire time watching this. Writer / director Eugene Kotlyarenko impressed the hell out of me. Not only does he have an intelligent understanding of the way the internet controls us and warps our minds, but he is able to bring this to life perfectly with the screen storytelling we see in the film. He even went so far as to fill all the streaming comments, and worked on every little last detail seen on screen. He crafts an incredibly authentic "real-world" experience with Keery, including one awesome car chase and tons of other sequences (action & comedy all being live-streamed) that I still can't figure out how they shot to look so real. This film is made up of thousands of different elements and Kotlyarenko puts them all together like a thousand-piece puzzle.
Of course the guy in this is bad and bat shit crazy and evil, but that is the point. And if you're still wondering how things have gotten this bad and how the madness of the internet is allowing people to get even more toxic every day, this film shows it very clearly. It's a wake-up call for ALL of us. Listen to what actress (and real-life comedian) Sasheer Zamata playing comedian Jessie Adams says in this film, take her advice to heart. Don't write it off. The reason films like this keep being made and the reason they keep reminding us of how bad social media can be is because nothing is changing. It's not getting better. Things keeps getting worse. And I know a film won't suddenly change things, but there are a few moments in this when I wanted to stand up and cheer because sometimes we need to have these things told straight up, right to our face, without any sugar coating so we can hopefully realize we're ALL caught up in this vacuous, dishonest mania.
I believe this film achieves all that it sets out to do. It's not only entertaining and thrilling and intense. It's also a shocking, potentially life-changing look at how internet popularity and fame has created an entire subculture that is causing people to lose their mind. It shows us how society is interconnected in this exact way and becoming worse because we can't break free from our addiction to the internet and all that it offers. And it shares a contemporary story about a young man who, while fictional, is as-close-to-real of an example of the kind of person being created by a dangerously careless society. There are so many lessons to learn from this film, and it challenges us to think deeply about how involved we are, and how we are contributing.