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Spree review: Stranger Things star Joe Keery goes American Psycho for likes

Social media influencers get a literal savaging in this luridly watchable, blackly comic ride share.

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Things get even stranger for Joe Keery in Spree.

RLJE Films

Hey guys, what's up? We're here with Spree, a new movie that skewers social media influencers, so let's dive in and unbox whether this film is worth a like. Fasten your seatbelts for a movie livestreaming a night in the life of a junior American Psycho in an Uber.

Out in theaters, on demand and online now, Spree takes you for a ride with young Kurt Kunkle. Kurt drives for an Uber/Lyft-style ride share service called Spree, but his real passion is the constant quest to turn his banal life into "content" for his social channels. Sadly, @Kurtsworld96 is an inconsequential influencer whose engagement barely hits double digits. Until he comes up with a new way of killing it on social... 

Kurt from Kurtsworld is in fact Steve from Stranger Things, better known as Joe Keery. He invests Kurt with such a cheery demeanor it's easy to root for him -- until you start to realize what he's actually up to. Kurt's cheerful enthusiasm and general haplessness make him a strangely endearing lead in this upside-down world, especially as the film deliberately frames him against people who are way worse. Not least his oblivious wannabe DJ dad (David Arquette), trapped by his own delusions of celebrity. It's a neat touch that they live not in LA, but nearby -- so close to stardom and yet so far. 

The story plays out as a livestream from Kurt's phone as he sets out to teach viewers about building a following. We see the action through phone cameras, CCTV and dashcams, and director Eugene Kotlyarenko does some inventive things with the camera so it doesn't feel like a gimmick. Clever use of split screen combines multiple intricately choreographed angles to build overlapping stories, ratcheting up suspense through the interaction between various social streams. Naturally, events proceed with scrolling user comments providing an ironic chorus to the action. 

Of course, the idea of committing crimes to earn fame -- or infamy -- isn't new. Movies have always given us characters killing for attention, from Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 to Natural Born Killers in 1994. And cathartic culling of the venal and vapid is seen in films from 1993's Falling Down to 2011's God Bless America.

Neither is Spree the first movie about a killer in a ride share (Ryde, Rideshare, End Trip -- these are all actual films). It isn't even the only movie this month focused on an unhinged man in a car stalking an innocent woman -- that would be Unhinged starring Russell Crowe.

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John Deluca, Sasheer Zamata and Joe Keery go for a ride in Spree.

RLJE Films

But even if it's familiar, Spree's blackly comic combination of well-worn satirical elements is luridly watchable, because this stuff works. The dubious heroes of Falling Down and God Bless America and Spree do what we can't, avenging themselves with extreme prejudice on the assholes of the day. So Spree updates the selfish golfers and reality TV idiots of those older films for new breeds of irritants, like alt-right braggarts, Tinder douchebags and Instagram-obsessed duckfaces. With such a parade of jerks getting what's coming to them, Spree's sudden and absurdly creative violence can't help but be darkly funny.

The phone cam shooting style works pretty well too. It's what we're used to these days, and energetic editing effectively mixes things up as the action unfolds. God knows what Spree looks like on a cinema screen -- or indeed what it'll look like in 15 years time, but I watched it on a laptop and it was fun. It's certainly a decent entry into the ever-increasing genre of films using screens and "found footage" from phone cameras, joining Unfriended and Searching as some of the better movies in which the characters peer into the camera like it's a mirror. Because, if you think about it, it is a mirror. #Satire!

Predictably, the watching and commenting crowd are as callous and desensitized as Kurt, if not more so -- it's not just the validation-hungry performers who are twisted by social media's algorithms, it's all us voyeurs staring through the screen too. You may notice the sly detail that when Kurt picks up a racist on his way to make a big speech, the really chilling thing is that he has 3,000 people waiting to listen to him. 

Ultimately, Keery's just too genial to be convincing as a kid who'd think up such a heinous plan in the first place. His backstory is dismal yet doesn't sell the extremeness that would tip Kurt over the edge. You don't get the sense of desperation and ambiguity Aubrey Plaza conjured so compellingly in Ingrid Goes West, another movie about a misfit warped by social media. That more subtle film also dove into darker psychological depths without resorting to spattering blood all over the place.

OK, maybe it's not a five-star ride, but Spree earns its tip.