“Hey guys, how’s it going? It’s Kurt from Kurt’s World.” A violent satire about a wannabe social media influencer (Joe Keery) who decides to start murdering people while driving for an Uber/Lyft-style rideshare company, Eugene Kotlyarenko’s well-received Sundance film Spree finally hits theaters and VOD this week.
Featuring a pounding EDM soundtrack and an ADD aesthetic that’s appropriately modern and aimed directly at the people it’s satirizing, the entire film is shot through a rapidly changing mix of screens (vertical iPhone streams, multiple car cameras, even police body cams). Like Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (an early pioneer in using various formats to comment on media-driven violence), Kotlyarenko’s script (co-written by Gene McHugh) constantly throws subtlety out the window by repeatedly hammering on the same themes. We get it, we get it: Social media influencer culture is creating a generation of soulless monsters who are willing to do anything for a little bit of internet clout. The film is far more understated while depicting the sense of entitlement marginally talented white men often carry, or their willingness to exploit people of color for personal gain.
Spree never directly asks the audience to side with Kurt, but it’s easy to do so in the first act – his first few victims (including a white supremacist and a misogynistic frat bro) are genuinely deplorable people. There’s a delicious sense of nihilism in the air early on (a brutal murder soundtracked by Gummibär’s “I’m A Gummy Bear” is one example), but that balls-to-the-wall energy slowly dissipates as the film leans away from gleeful exploitation and slides into finger-wagging cultural commentary.
Perhaps best known for playing Steve in Stranger Things, Joe Keery’s performance carries the film, even through the weak spots – the manner in which his character oscillates between charmingly awkward vlogger bro and sociopathic serial killer is quite chilling. Elsewhere, hilarious cameos from Mischa Barton and Frankie Grande certainly liven things up, but Spree truly comes alive whenever Sasheer Zamata is onscreen – the SNL alum plays Jessie Adams, a stand-up comedian who appears briefly in the first half and steals the whole damn show in the outrageous climax.
Spree is out in theaters and on demand August 14 from RLJE Films.