It’s a scene that’ll be acquainted to anybody who has misplaced just a few hours to YouTube: A blandly good-looking younger man smiles and adjusts his digicam. “Hey guys,” he greets the display screen. “What’s up?”
He introduces himself. He’s Kurt Kunkle, a self-identified influencer and “content creator” residing exterior Los Angeles. Played by Stranger Things star Joe Keery, he’s the narrator of the new movie Spree, which follows Kurt’s plan to go viral. He’s been diligently documenting his life for greater than a decade, and despite the fact that considered one of his former babysitting fees has achieved on-line fame as a prankster gamer, Kurt’s not well-known but. Or recognized in any respect. He’s simply been “posting content in obscurity.” Beneath his resolutely cheerful demeanor, he’s sick of failing to seek out an viewers. So he conjures up a easy, terrible scheme he calls #TheLesson: Kurt will kill his ride-share passengers, live-streaming their deaths to achieve followers.
At the starting of his trip, Kurt tells his viewers he desires to offer them a “trigger warning.” Might as properly give a caveat—and spoiler alert—myself earlier than describing what goes down. Spree recreates a fictional mass homicide from begin to end, with the killer as eerily affable information. As such, it’s a intentionally lurid viewing expertise. Director Eugene Kotlyarenko makes use of a mixture of GoPro footage from cameras positioned inside the automotive, in addition to pictures of Kurt’s display screen and livestreams from numerous characters. This visible framework positions the viewer as a part of the rising on-line crowd tuning in to the carnage. (The viewers may even see feedback from the different digital gawkers, and stats on what number of others are watching.) With Kurt in the driver’s seat, the narrative may really feel like watching a zippy videogame livestream. And its casting decisions compound the sensation that Kurt is shifting by way of a gamified actuality; lots of his passengers are “I know them from somewhere” quasi-famous sorts like Mischa Barton, Lala Kent, and Frankie Grande. Watching Spree, it is easy to get inquisitive about how far he can go.
This all creates a queasy feeling of complicity. Doubly so as a result of Kurt resembles a number of real-life mass murderers, together with Elliot Rodger, who killed six folks in Southern California in 2014 and left behind a macabre digital footprint, and Jason Dalton, an Uber driver who murdered six folks in 2016. The movie’s grim ending means that #TheLesson succeeds, and Kurt turns into valorized by sure segments of the web in the identical manner that Rodger turned the “patron saint of on-line misogynists” after his loss of life.
Was Spree engineered to stoke that hoary outdated debate over whether or not movies about violent misfits are too harmful to look at? Maybe. In addition to echoing real-life killers, Kurt additionally takes cues from a few of the most controversial figures in the male rage canon. Like Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s American Psycho, Kurt’s obsessive about facades, and creepily humorous. Bateman agonized over the relative tastefulness of enterprise card fonts; Kurt will get genuinely anguished when one other influencer doesn’t have consistency in her camerawork. Like Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, he traverses an ideal American metropolis in a delirious drift, delusions tipping into violence. Like the Joker, Kurt delights in sowing chaos, and Kurt shares his goals of a rapt viewers with Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck. Tonally, although, Spree is way aside from most gritty fashionable reimaginings of Batman’s foe. Joker is solemn, whereas Spree winks. Its arch, typically campy tone makes it clear that the aim is to make Kurt’s mindset look extra repulsive than pathetic.
Anyway, the chief topic of Spree is web fame, not poisonous masculinity. More than another cinematic determine, Kurt resembles Suzanne Stone, the conniving climate girl performed by Nicole Kidman in Gus Van Sant’s 1995 movie To Die For. Suzanne’s lifeless set on changing into a nationally famend broadcast journalist, and he or she’s prepared to kill to realize her aim. Keery performs Kurt with the identical taste of chilly, oddly charming desperation that Kidman’s striver exudes, and the same disinterest in the non-public self. (“What’s the point of doing anything if no one’s watching?” Suzanne wonders—some extent Kurt echoes repeatedly on his spree.) Like Suzanne, Kurt sees violence as a way to an finish, and can’t fathom the goal of life with out an viewers. They’re imagining totally different demographics taking a look at them, however life is indistinguishable from efficiency. While Suzanne adopts the language and mannerisms of the anchorwomen of her time, Kurt internalizes the jargon of influencer advertising and marketing, babbling endlessly about metrics and enthusing over his “rig” of cameras. Even when his strategies develop extra grotesque, it’s in pursuit of extra engagement quite than an inner starvation for gore. The folks round him are props. One notable exception: Jessie Adams (Sasheer Zamata), a standup comedian who finds her day unexpectedly intertwined with Kurt’s. At first, she enters the movie as a foil to Kurt, however she finally ends up echoing Suzanne, too. Jessie swears off social media in a pivotal scene, satisfied it’s corroding her soul—however, identical to Kurt and Suzanne earlier than him, she finally ends up enamored with who she is on different folks’s screens.