Screenshot from Spree
Joe Keery gets bloody in the search for fame. (Image via Instagram/@filmunknown)
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Screenshot from Spree

The Joe Keery-led comedy-horror film satirizes influencer culture and sheds light on the consequences of online narcissism.

Spree” follows Kurt, a rideshare driver growing disgruntled with his average life and lack of social media presence. After becoming lovestruck over a social media comedian, Kurt concocts a plan to go viral in hopes of catching her eye — but at a deadly cost.

As social media has risen to the forefront of many of our lives, it is no surprise that what was once simple “likes” and “follows” has created a world of social media influencers. Every day there are millions of users trying to figure out how they will finally build their followings and join the ranks of the internet celebrities they idolize. In the past, becoming a celebrity came with years of work and dedication — now all it takes is a WiFi connection and a persona. By the same token, the easily accessible nature of social media has led to an oversaturation of influencers all fighting to grow their followings — some more desperate than others.

“Spree,” directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko, is a dark comedy horror film that explores how far one is willing to go for the sake of internet fame. “Stranger Things’” Joe Keery stars as Kurt, a lonely 20-something growing frustrated with his obscure social media presence and a lack of validation from his family. Kurt spends every waking moment obsessing over his social media analytics and trying to find his big break into internet stardom. Furthermore, Kurt is riddled with envy, as his friend Bobby’s social media presence grows rapidly.

To make ends meet, Kurt becomes a rideshare driver for a company called Spree. During his Spree trips, Kurt airs a livestream series called “#TheLesson” meant to be a guide to becoming a successful, marketable social media influencer. Though this sounds like content that is well-intended albeit a little ironic, #TheLesson takes a fatal turn as Kurt begins to livestream himself murdering his passengers in hopes that he will catch the internet’s attention.

Defining “Influencer”

In the film, Kurt proclaims that the key to social media success is consistency — a message that is a stark contrast to the true foundation of influencer culture. When developing Kurt’s character, Kotlyarenko and Keery poured hours into surfing the web for influencers across a variety of social media platforms. From outlandish characters such as Logan and Jake Paul, all the way to gaming streamers such as Ninja, Kotlyarenko and Keery set out to find out what makes an influencer. This seems a nearly impossible task, considering influencer culture has a fleeting, fast-paced nature that is hard to define.

This fleeting nature is exemplified well in the movie, with Kurt’s struggle to nail a specific type of content that will garner a steady fanbase. Viewers watch clips of Kurt cycling through a variety of internet fads such as vlogs, livestreams and gaming streams all as he feverishly tries to find his niche. Furthermore, the other influencer characters in the film all make content and curate personas that are drastically different from one another. This wide array of characters and content seems off, but it perfectly nails the fact that despite the ideals Kurt outlines, becoming an influencer isn’t hinged on definitive standards or patterns. It depends on whether or not you are fortunate enough to have a lucky break.

Social (Media) Commentary

Throughout the film, viewers see a cast of characters that are each a caricature of social media influencers. While this makes for a fun viewing experience, it’s the subtext behind the characters that reveal the film’s underlying social commentary. Being that Kurt’s character was modeled on satirical caricatures of real people, it is fascinating to see how grounded in the reality of the state of the world his character truly is. Looking beyond the main character, everyone introduced in the film is part of a broader critique of social media culture.

Regardless of the differences they all have, each is watchfully monitoring their social media engagement. Whether it be for monetary gain, followers or seeking a big break into mainstream media fame, all of the characters fall victim to the addictiveness of social media analytics. It’s not only influencers that fall victim to this trend; it can be anyone with active social media accounts simply looking to feel rewarded and validated by receiving positive engagement from posting. It’s a commentary on how such intangible things have transcended the realm of the internet and become an integral part of people’s lives. Though “Spree” particularly focuses on influencer culture, it speaks to a broader truth of how social media converges with reality.

Where Satire Meets Reality

Despite the laughable, cringe-inducing nature of Kurt’s actions, there are shades of reality blended into Keery’s portrayal of an awkward, naive youth desperately yearning for a social media following. Though it has never been explicitly stated, the premise of “Spree” is reminiscent of certain individuals who have garnered infamy in their attempts to catch the attention of internet users. Particularly, the grim case of Luka Magnotta — one of the most heinous individuals to come from fame culture.

After countless attempts at a modeling career, reality TV stardom and many more desperate claims to fame, Luka Magnotta felt slighted by a world that ignored him. A feeling of abandonment led to him committing heinous crimes merely for the sake of seeing his face on the news. Lost in his own grandeur and narcissism, Magnotta took to social media to put a grisly plan into action. Magnotta enraged animal rights activists and earned a spot in the hall of internet infamy as he uploaded multiple instances of animal abuse and torture.

This outrage sparked a profuse search led by web sleuths eager to catch the man depraved enough to harm innocent animals for the sake of internet attention. His already gruesome track record took an even darker turn when Magnotta uploaded a video of him brutally ending the life of a university student named Jun Lin.

Soon after the crime, Magnotta was apprehended and the true depths of his narcissistic nature rose to the surface. All of his moves that followed his crimes were made with a malicious, calculated intent meant to spring him into the limelight and fill frontpages with his name and story. His carefully planned plot to fame fell through as the majority of the media coverage and public attention rightfully went to the Lin family as Jun was an innocent life lost due to a senseless crime. Magnotta will remain in prison, where he will never have a way of ever basking in the infamy of his crime.

Author and journalist Steve Lillebuen published a book titled “The Devil’s Cinema” based on the cases of multiple individuals who broadcasted their crimes. In it, he describes how the social media boom has given a way for people with malicious goals to have an instantaneous connection to the global attention they crave. A terrifying truth that expresses the dichotomous nature of social media.

While the concept of having the entire world at your fingertips is hard to conceptualize, it is the reality of social media. Social media is a powerful tool that has lent a hand in the magnification of world-changing movements such as the BLM protests, the search for Vanessa Guillen and the EndSARS campaign. When used properly, it can be a vessel that can give a voice to people who normally go unheard.

Peeling back the layers of satire, slapstick humor and Final Destination-esque deaths, “Spree” bears the important message that one shouldn’t equate their self-worth with their social media presence. “Spree” is a film that will make you laugh at the moment, but leave you reflecting on what the motives behind your social media usage are.

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