With COVID-19 trapping millions of people in their homes throughout 2020, and continuing to keep people indoors as we enter 2021, we have all had to find ways to entertain ourselves. For some this has meant photographing countless loaves of banana bread to share on Instagram; while for others it has meant taking to TikTok to perfect a new dance routine.
One area of entertainment that has seen a surge during the lockdowns is the world of streaming. More of us are either streaming our own material, or watching other people stream theirs, and this in turn has increased the amount of creator-driven content at our disposal.
And with streaming becoming a bigger part of our lives, it’s not surprising then to find the horror genre using this medium as the backdrop for a new movie. Streaming as a horror concept has been done before, in the likes of Daniel Goldhaber’s psychological horror movie Cam (2018), and now it provides the framework for the Netflix movie, Spree.
Spree arrived on Netflix on New Year’s Eve, where it slipped onto the subscription service while we were all busy flipping the bird to 2020. As such, you may not have noticed Spree just yet, but no doubt you will come across it in due course, because it stars Stranger Things actor, Joe Keery and is currently trending as part of the Netflix Top Ten.
Directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko, Spree focuses on Kurt Kunkle – a wannabe streamer who is desperate for ‘likes’ and attention. Convinced he will be the next big thing, Kunkle conceives a plan to raise his profile.
Working as a taxi driver for a rideshare app (similar to Uber), Kunkle fits his car with cameras to stream his day at work. He then picks up passengers, kills them in his car, and streams the sordid details live to his audience.
Spree is presented as if it were a live stream, and is similar in style to a found footage film. The movie was produced on a small budget, with Keery appearing as Kunkle in almost every scene of the film.
In terms of its premise, Spree keeps things simple: A guy drives around, bumps off unsuspecting victims, and keeps going. The film does expand a little as the story develops, but the ‘backseat murders’ angle is a significant chunk of the movie.
And unfortunately, this is where Spree struggles; because the more the film leans into its basic premise, the more boring it becomes. In fact, things get repetitive very quickly, and I must admit that my concentration started to wane within the first 20-30 minutes, then continued to wane at various intervals from here on out.
This isn’t the fault of Keery, who does a good job of bringing Kunkle to life. He plays the character as odd, clearly unhinged, and very disturbing; making for an uncomfortable but believable watch.
Spree is also packed with some really interesting ideas about online personas, the depths people will go to for virtual praise, and our relationship with reality. It throws in a couple of shocks, and when it works, it works well.
The fault with the film is everything in between. It fails to maintain any momentum, and lacks enough flair to make it stand out.
The horror could have been inventive, with some imaginative death scenes to inject some excitement into proceedings, but the kills are largely non-eventful, and there is zero suspense. The film lurches from one kill to the next, with a string of unlikeable characters getting bumped off, and it is difficult to get attached to anyone in the story.
Spree also feels far too long, which is perhaps quite surprising considering the film runs for a mere 93 minutes. A good twenty minutes could (and should) have been shaved off the running time.
I genuinely believe Spree had the potential to be something good, and throughout my time watching the movie I kept willing it to get better, but it just never hit the high points. Perhaps with a bigger budget, and a little re-working, it could have delivered more.
Ultimately, Spree is a difficult movie to like. It’s not impossible to enjoy what is on offer, but it feels far too patchy, with no sense of direction.