The pas­sen­ger’s scream­ing as the driver’s stream­ing

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - RICHARD ROEPER MOVIE COLUM­NIST rroeper@sun­ | @RichardERo­eper

‘SPREE’ ★★★

RLJE Films presents a film di­rected by Eu­gene Kotl­yarenko and writ­ten by Kotl­yarenko and Gene McHugh. No MPAA rat­ing. Run­ning time: 92 min­utes. Opens Thurs­day at lo­cal the­aters and Fri­day on de­mand.

We of­ten speak of “com­fort view­ing” movies and shows — rel­a­tively light, fa­mil­iar, ten­sion-free ma­te­rial, per­fect for late-night, curl-up-on-the-sofa view­ing. (This week’s Ap­ple TV+ se­ries “Ted Lasso” would be a clas­sic ex­am­ple.) On the op­po­site end of the spec­trum we find the dizzy­ing and un­nerv­ing and ki­netic and deeply dis­turb­ing “Spree,” which plays like a so­cial me­dia ver­sion of “Amer­i­can Psy­cho” with bloody sprin­klings of “Taxi Driver,” “The King of Com­edy” and “Joker” on the side.

Just as the “Un­friended” hor­ror movies are told al­most en­tirely via lap­top screen­casts, “Spree” is es­sen­tially an un­bro­ken se­ries of livestream­s, pri­mar­ily told from the point of view of one Kurt Kun­cle (Joe Keery from “Stranger Things,” do­ing some of his best work), a lonely and des­per­ately am­bi­tious YouTube/ Snapchat/In­sta­gram/Face­bookLive/ TikTok wannabe who chron­i­cles his ad­ven­tures as a ride-share driver through a se­ries of GoPro-type cam­eras mounted through­out the ve­hi­cle. Watch­ing the film is like check­ing out Kurt’s feed, ex­cept we can’t add to the con­stant stream of com­ments scrolling across the screen.

Kurt is ob­sessed with the YouTube su­per­star Bobby BaseCamp (Joshua Or­valle), a vain­glo­ri­ous jerk who has be­come rich and fa­mous through his own vi­ral stunts and can make you an in­stant star merely by lik­ing and en­dors­ing your “work.” When Kurt an­nounces his in­ten­tions to poi­son and kill his pas­sen­gers and record the mur­ders in real time and then ac­tu­ally fol­lows through on the threat, Bob­byBaseCamp re­mains unim­pressed and un­con­vinced — un­til the two of them meet face to face. Di­rec­tor and co-writer Eu­gene Kotl­yarenko does a deep dive into dark hu­mor as the body count piles up and Kurt stalks a smart and edgy stand-up co­me­dian named Jessie Adams (Sasheer Za­mata). He doesn’t want to kill Jessie; he wants to make an im­pres­sion on her — and his ef­forts to do so are in some ways nearly as creepy and chill­ing as the killings he’s cheer­fully car­ry­ing out.

Just about ev­ery as­pect of “Spree” has a lay­ered mean­ing, in­clud­ing the ti­tle it­self, as Spree is the name of the ride-share com­pany for which Kurt drives, and he goes on one hor­rific killing spree. Ev­ery frame of the film is burst­ing with sensory over­load in­for­ma­tion, from the shaky, hand-held cam­era an­gles to the con­stant scrolling of viewer mes­sages to the oc­ca­sional use of split screens. Kurt some­times plays to the cam­era like he’s a cast mem­ber on “The Of­fice” or “Parks & Rec,” and we can’t help but laugh at some of the over-the-top an­tics even as we cringe. The vi­o­lence in “Spree” is vis­ceral and shock­ing — and many in the “au­di­ence” watch­ing the deadly pro­ceed­ings on their smart­phones and tablets are ei­ther dis­be­liev­ing or ut­terly numb to the blurred lines be­tween re­al­ity and en­ter­tain­ment. Maybe what they’re watch­ing is real; maybe it’s all a hoax. Ei­ther way, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore they’re go­ing to turn their at­ten­tion to the Next New Thing.


Mul­ti­ple cam­eras mounted in his car al­low ride-share driver Kurt (Joe Keery) to livestream the mur­ders he com­mits in “Spree.”

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