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Peter Malone MSC  |  05 October 2020

SPREE.  US, 2020.  StarringJoe Keery, Sasheer Zamara, David Arquette, Kyle Mooney, Mischa Barton, Frankie Grande, Joshua Valle. Directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko.  93 minutes.  Rated MA (Strong themes, violence and coarse language).

In 1963 there was a comedy movie, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Almost 60 years on, after watching Spree, we would think: It’s a Madder, Madder, Madder, Madder World. It’s a world where the central character tells us right from the beginning, ‘if your life is not documented, you don’t exist’.

Here we are plunged, along with the central character, Kurt (Joe Keery) into a world where the virtual world takes pre-eminence. Kurt does live in a real world (questioning the meaning of ‘live’), drives the equivalent of an Uber car, picking up passengers, but it is only a context for a virtual world. He has several cameras in his car, looks to camera all the time, speaks to camera more than to his customers, has organised his site, KurtsWorld 96 (the year he was born) to be streamed by a friend, Bobby, whom he babysat years ago. Bobby is an entrepreneur, gives Kurt a go, but throughout the day becomes increasingly impatient with Kurt, so few people watching him, deciding to cut him off – but Kurt literally cuts him.

So, how are we reacting to Spree? Especially when we realise that Kurt is on a spree of killing his passengers?

If we are an older demographic, we are probably put off, puzzled about Kurt and his narcissistic preoccupations, his growing sociopathic behaviour, his need for acknowledgment, not just admirers but 'followers' and, until his behaviour becomes more outlandish, their lack of recognition for him.

For a younger demographic, Kurt’s world is approximating to a real world, the world of social media, the world of being preoccupied with what is on a screen rather than in reality, spending the whole day so screen-focused, a communication by tweets (sometimes hero-worship, otherwise just trolling), an assumption that this is how life is and will be into the future.

There are some dramatic moments for those who need drama (as does this reviewer), some strange cases in the fares he picks up, a self-important racist speaker, a young strutter who thinks he is God’s gift to everyone, some thrill-seekers looking for more than a trip. But, more interestingly, there is also a stand-up comedian, Jessie, who escapes from Kurt, uses him in her stand-up routine (streamed to thousands of followers), is critical of him – and, ironically, becomes his fare later in the film. It is she who confronts him – but he has no lessons to learn. This is his life.

Kurt is a celebrity in his own mind. But he craves more recognition, more followers. He is always camera-ready. But, no actual social skills. Many of the followers think he is boring and he and they want to build up to more excitement. Real life is considered trivial. The value of life depends on the number of likes.

Ironically, the title for Jessie’s act is ‘All Eyes on Me’.

So, an emotional jolter. A great deal of challenge (but the fear that many audiences may well be identifying with Kurt and his dreams and goals).

The makers enjoy more irony with the song over the final credits, endowing it with different meaning, 'I will follow him…'

I will follow him, follow him wherever he may go
There isn't an ocean too deep
A mountain so high it can keep me away. (As long as there is a signal in the mountains.)

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of Jesuit Media
Releasing 8 October; November VOD


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