Blu-ray Review: Spree

Stranger Things' Joe Keery as you've likely never seen him before.

By , Contributor
Let's start with the good points about the horror-satire Spree, new to Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital. Stranger Things fans take note: Spree stars Joe Keery, better known as heartthrob Steve Harrington, everyone's favorite Scoops Ahoy! employee in the popular Netflix series. Here he delivers a wildly different performance and wannabe social media influence Kurt, an off-kilter Spree driver. What's Spree? Think Uber or Lyft, same thing under a fictional name.

Of note for SNL fans, former cast member Sasheer Zamata co-stars and current cast member Kyle Mooney turns in a supporting role. And fans of the 'found footage' subgenre of horror will likely find this spin interesting. Director Eugene Kotlyarenko tells Kurt's story, a wild night of live streaming that turns brutally criminal, entirely via social media apps.

But beyond an amusing spin on a subgenre that has been losing steam (and novelty value) for years, how well does Spree actually work? One can imagine how the original idea might originally have been hatched between co-screenwriters Kotlyarenko and Gene McHugh...

"You know, kids today would practically kill for more followers on their social media accounts."

"Hey, that would totally make a great horror movie!"

And it probably should've. But unfortunately Kurt's murderous spree (get it?) during one long, sometimes surreal night, isn't treated with enough depth to make the bigger ideas stick. In today's real world, one in which Obdulia Sanchez live-streamed the aftermath of her sister's fatal car crash for aghast followers and also found a group of teens video'ing the drowning of a helpless man without bothering call 911, Kurt's attacks on his Spree fares isn't actually much of a stretch.

But the sketch-like, try-hard "black comedy" framework in which it unfolds is too facile to really have any impact. Still, there are moments here that stick—especially those involving Zamata's standup Jessie Adams and her life-changing interactions with Kurt. The meeting of a true influencer like Jessie and a bottom-feeding sap like Kurt leads to revelatory moments for both parties. But much of Spree's social satire is a bit too on-the-nose to really live up to its potential.

The acting walks an impossibly fine line, leading to another problem. We've all spent so much time watching real social media figures—of wildly varying degrees of prominence—that it's easy to see when a professional actor is trying just a bit too hard to emulate one. And despite a game effort, Keery falls into that particular sand trap here. We can see his actorly mind at work as he tries to capture the addled mind of a misguided young adult like this homicidal rideshare driver. His performance becomes a little too mannered to feel as "real" as it needs to. (Josh Ovalle as Kurt's live-streaming competitor/frenemy Bobby captures modern vapidity more accurately, partly due to him being less immediately recognizable as Keery as there are less preconceived notions going in.)

Zamata fares better than anyone in the cast, as she's playing a "normal" person. David Arquette is another famous face who turns up, and despite his horror pedigree with Scream, he's simply too recognizable to fit in as Kurt's father, Kris. Not to mention that Kris' own influencer-aspirations are given no real backstory. And the middle section of Spree wanders aimlessly, another in a mounting list of deficits.

Yet as much of a hot mess as it is, Spree has enough interesting ideas to make it worth a look. The concept is intriguing enough, with some big ideas at play. They just needed more careful planning and execution. And, as with other entries both good and bad in the 'found footage' arena, the narrative conceit itself can be its own worst enemy in terms of character exploration.

The Blu-ray contains director's commentary as well as a selection of the complete versions of Kurt's attempted viral videos as glimpsed throughout Spree.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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