Smile for the Cameras – Spree (2020)

There have been some true rideshare horror stories in the news. Combine that with a social media culture that determines a person’s worth in likes, follows, and hashtags, crank the intensity way up, and that’s the basic premise. Spree is a surprisingly funny dark comedy/thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is still rooted in some genuine mental health issues.

Kurt Kunkle is an awkward young man who desperately wants to be a social media influencer. Despite his obsession with content, Kurt just doesn’t have the “it” factor, but his pursuit of internet stardom is relentless. In his desperation, Kurt comes up with a plan he calls #TheLesson that sends him on one night of murderous mayhem.

Yes, that’s David Arquette playing Kurt’s low-life dad.

While it’s important to keep in mind that Eugene Kotlyarenko’s movie is a dark comedy, there’s some truth in his criticism of how social media affects self-worth, especially of young people. It’s no coincidence his main character has very damaged relationships with both parents. The script, co-written by Gene McHugh, is not focused on Kurt’s family life but there’s enough there to ground the story with a tangible foundation. The dialogue is strong in establishing their lead but it dwindled a bit as it moved into the realm of joke-telling with its comedian characters. The absurdity of Kurt’s behavior coupled with some of the social media responses is where the strength of the movie’s humor is rooted. It’s situational, not performative.

Joe Keery (Stranger Things) is great in the lead, and I honestly don’t know if this movie would have been palatable without him. Kurt is not exactly a sympathetic character you cheer for, but Keery is undeniably watchable and Kurt’s loneliness and lack of genuine human connection give him substance. While you’re not cheering for Kurt to succeed, you can’t help but watch as the intensity ratchets up. There’s a level of curiosity that keeps fueling the fire and it’s through #TheLesson that Kurt finally gets the following he so desperately wanted and that’s the journey that’s paralleled over the course of the runtime. 

The synergy between all the different shots worked surprisingly well.

I also really loved the way this movie was shot. Director of Photography Jeff Leeds Cohn Jeff really showed the versatility and diversity available with digital filming and there’s not a conventional shot in the bunch. Blending social media interfaces, with all the different personal cameras Kurt has equipped made for a surprisingly engaging visual experience. I’ve seen other movies where that visual storytelling style is used more like a crutch, but it felt much more natural in this instance. 

This movie isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely entertaining. It’s a little low-budget, but it’s incredibly creative and effective in that space.

Recommendation: See if for Joe Keery’s performance and the innovative filmmaking.

Currently streaming on Hulu

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