The internet gives way to many self contained worlds. All too easy to be sucked in, and many, including myself, are now born into it. Living around it, you can get stuck in a little bubble and start to believe your twitter feed is an accurate reflection of the real world. This is all until you step away and realise none of that stuff actually matters in the real world. But in these bubbles a culture builds and very few films manage to accurately transfer internet culture and its effect on its users onto the screen, but Spree is one of them.
The film stars Joe Keery as Kurt Kunkle, working for rideshare company Spree, he’s an unsuccessful online personality and desperate for his brand “Kurts World” to go viral. The movie sees him set up cameras in his taxi and follows him around LA in his attempts for internet glory. Plot points get dropped and picked up again when our protagonist chases whatever he thinks will gain attention, upping the ante every time. We learn as he talks to his audience (or absence of) that in this game, it’s not about authenticity or experience, but just the representation of one. Spree gives us a bitingly cynical portrayal of online content creators as we see him cruise around for something that will satisfy his own entitlement to fame. You watch him as he complains about the metrics and how the system is all against him.
Using online video, his audience views his stunts through a filter – completely detached from reality, not sure if to believe it real or fake. All of this is shown to us (you, the viewer) through an overwhelming mismatch of filming methods; mobile phone, police body cam, security and car-dash cams, at some points with multiple shown all at once. This approach works really well. It captures the frantic nature of streamed disaster, and replicates how the real world equivalents are seen online. Twitch chats roll on the side of the screen giving commentary while we watch the scene happen from a number of characters points of view. This combined with little touches like logos of the channels for that character in the bottom of that screen all build a not only realistic, but a believable aesthetic to the film.
The film’s carried on the back of Keery’s performance, for a large portion of the runtime we’re looking directly into his face and he makes that work. His portrayal of the peppy vlogger persona captures the phoney uncanny realism associated with the online personality genre of video content. With the cast apparently spending hours consuming online personality-based content, he nails the strange facade, presented as authenticity these creators tend to have.
Spree is a dark film and with moments of real gore, but one with a lot of comedy to it. The clash of his persona and actions for the content, along with jibes and winks to the camera keeps it light. This is where I think the film really gets it in its satire of online content creators. Anyone who’s seen a single video by either of the YouTube titans Jake/Logan Paul knows what I mean by this. Absolute extremity to draw the crowds in, until something goes wrong. Becoming lost when trying to put your personality into content creation until creating the content becomes your personality.
It may be heavy handed in some places and will probably age like milk as time goes on. But for now it’s a darkly funny film, that shows Joe Keery is more than just ‘that guy from Stranger Things’, and one that replicates the current online celebrity landscape perfectly.
*Currently Streaming on Netflix UK