HomeHorror'Spree' And The Myth Of Online Expertise

‘Spree’ And The Myth Of Online Expertise


They’re just not that into him.

Spree

Despite having a kill count in the double digits by the end of the film, Spree’sKurt Kunkle (Joe Keery) is not a quintessential serial killer or slasher. He’s not aggressive, skilled, strong, or jaded. He has no vendetta or trigger. He has no profile for his kills, save for the unlucky coincidence that his victims were picked up by him when they use a fictional Uber-type rideshare app called Spree. What stands out most, though, is that Kurt’s actual ultimate goal is to be caught in the act. 

Spree is a standout addition to the postmodern slasher canon — a film that exists solely within the killer’s point-of-view, because he is responsible not just for the recording of the acts, but the livestreaming of them to a public audience. Kurt kills the various Los Angeles types who end up in the backseat of his car over the course of a night as the film plays out in almost real-time. Any gaps in time are justified only by Kurt looking at something on his phone, or by Kurt’s older attempts at online virality intercut within his kill spree. 

Kurt desperately wants to give off the sense that he knows things—he lies about being friends with people who clearly hate him, he lies about having made sex tapes, and in a desperate attempt to tap into any market at all, he is a sort of jack of all potential famous influencer trades and a master of none, highlighted by an opening montage of Kurt tasting waters and energy drinks, giving a room tour, and reviewing shoes; all forcefully failed attempts at seeming like a smart, interesting, or charismatic online presence.

Because unfortunately for Kurt, no matter what he does, he is just not built to be famous on the internet. Kurt is an obscenely awkward person. He speaks in a stumbling rush, and fails to read the room when he attempts to socialize. He often brings up his own experiences as an “influencer” (despite only having following numbers in the single digits) and treats human interactions as an opportunity to promote his brand. In fact, the brief interaction we first see with Kurt and his father is of Kurt desperately trying to get his semi-famous dad to wear his “Kurtsworld” merch — a crappy-looking hat.

He is both desperately tied to the internet and destined to never make it on there, begging people in person to “follow for follow”.  Kurt is overwhelmingly earnest. In his version of a “Draw My Life” video, he announces without a hint of irony, “something in these videos that I really appreciate is everybody’s complete honesty in telling their life story”. He totally buys into the myth of the internet; that anyone can make it if they follow some imagined set of rules, or if they do something big and bold enough to be worthy of being seen. 

And yet his only viewer for his first seven kills is Bobby Bud Lee (played by the real-life Vine star Josh Ovalle, recognizable instantly to the chronically online), a kid he used to babysit who is now a famous streamer. As Kurt repeatedly asks for Bobby to promo his channel, Bobby comments on the stream: “You’re putting me to sleep. Plus it’s evil,” as if the failure to be interesting outweighs the killing. 

Kurt’s killing spree is not for any other purpose but to achieve his dream of going viral—a fascination for him that has become his whole life, an uncanny sensation bolstered by the very aesthetics of the film. Not a single shot of Spreeremoves itself from the digital space— all the camerawork is technically diegetic, justified by Kurt’s set-up. It’s made up of live streams, screen shares, Instagram stories, and a dizzying amount of Go-Pros in his car. Even the music he plays is revealed to be his own shittily crafted beats. Our premise, a sort of faux true story horror set-up, is offered through title cards written in tacky comic sans, highlighting Spree’sbiggest skill — it’s understanding of the unspoken rules of the internet enough to know how to make Kurt and his goals seem icky, lame, and inexpert. 

Kurt’s biggest flaw, the thing that makes it the most difficult for him to go viral, even when he’s pushing a drill through some poor woman’s head to blood-splattering satisfaction for the whole world to potentially see (offering a cutesy peace sign to camera while he does so), is that he fails to sell himself adequately online. He lacks the charisma, the sense of expertise, of having something to offer, that gives one a fighting chance at winning against the algorithm. As Kurt complains, Bobby comments simply, “some people are born with influencer vibes, and some people are not.” 

Kurt’s whole killing spree is titled “The Lesson”. One imagines this would hold a punitive tone, run parallel to the likes of the freakish, horrific, and violent men who post videotaped manifestos to the internet, who loathe others, who believe they have had something taken from them. But Kurt’s “Lesson” in Spreeis actually a genuine attempt to teach his audience something. His livestreamed murders are his twisted version of a “how to get rich quick” scheme to help his viewers and followers (of which, at first, he has less than double digits). In fact, he describes the whole event as a “tutorial” in how to “up their social media game” (the moment he describes this, a rude, sarcastic response pops up across his livestream, highlighting how little his viewers think of him —“LMFAO”). 

Kurt is a man willing to kill in cold blood for a few followers, yet his energy — earnest, doe-eyed, and superficially kind — is somehow still too pure for the internet. In contrast, those that Kurt kill seem to represent the jaded and cold corners of the internet made tangible; his first ride is a white supremacist on his way to make a speech, followed by a vapid real estate agent, a man rushing to get laid, and a group of loud, pretty clubgoers (including an extremely unexpected Frankie Grande cameo) wanting a good photo for Instagram. 

His “lesson” doesn’t gain any traction until he starts killing more famous people — most notably his own friend, Bobby. But even once this traction occurs, his audience solely exists to mock Kurt, egg him on, and bully him. Yet all of this flies entirely over Kurt’s head. Views, to him, imply that people like you, trust you. They believe you have offered something smart and helpful. So he pathetically thanks his presumed “fans” even as they pay money to have “You’re the worst streamer of all time” or “something is wrong with him” appear across the screen. The people watching, veiled by the perceived anonymity of the internet, are cold-blooded and harsh. A gun going off, or a stabbing, immediately leads to accusations of fakery. A commenter says “sounds like blanks” when a gunshot rings out on the stream, partaking in that same desire of suggesting expertise. 

As Kurt’s viewership grows, comments begin to obscure the screen. This gives the sensation that we as viewers are in the midst of the others. It’s as if the crass shit onscreen, the egging on of his violence, the accusing him of a hoax, is all happening in real time. It feels almost as if we have the option to click off if we want, yet we continue to watch him enact immense violence.

And while one is relieved when traditional slasher film catharsis is fulfilled when Kurt is finally killed by the Final Girl equivalent — the quirky comedian Jessie Adams (Sasheer Zamata) — it also feels like we would’ve sat through until the end no matter how it turned out, even if Kurt had won. Spree posits that the bitterness and ironic detachment of the internet allows us to watch real-life atrocities without any moral qualms. 

Kurt is a deranged and awful person. He’s soulless like those in his comments appear to be, yet he lacks the ironic distance and charisma that one requires to be approved of online. His earnestness, even if it is evil, makes him a mockery no matter what he does. He isn’t good enough, doesn’t seem compelling enough, doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing enough, for his audience to do anything but degrade him.

Spree seems to suggest that the desperation to find a niche on the internet does not mean you are actually providing help, comfort, or support. In fact, you may actually be making the world a worse place in your grappling to be approved of by cruel strangers in your comments. One feels at the end of Spree that perhaps our time would be better spent trying to make smaller connections at higher value, instead of hustling for virality at any cost. 

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