Is 'Spree' Based on a True Story? (2024)

Spree (2020)

Is 'Spree' Based on a True Story? (1)

By Jasneet Singh

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Is 'Spree' Based on a True Story? (2)

The Big Picture

  • Real crimes have often fueled filmmakers' creativity, depicting horrors like Kurt's fame-obsessed killing spree in 2020's Spree.'
  • Despite Spree not mirroring real cases, the film's director drew inspiration from a true story of an Uber driver's deadly rampage.
  • Joe Keery's transformation into Kurt Kunkle involved deep research into social media underdogs and ride-share drivers for authenticity.

Real crimes have been the object of speculation for filmmakers for decades. From rampant serial killers to elaborate heists, films have highlighted the gruesome details and tackled the devastating consequences. Spree (2020) plays on the overarching fear of the stranger driving you when you order a car service, who may have potentially deadly ulterior motives. It also emphasizes the modern phenomena of going viral, tapping into the mindset of minor influencers who are desperate to be seen and bolster their audience/followers. With these realistic modern concepts, it's easy to believe that the film was based on a real case, but the film actually merges these two ideas, creating the ultimate fame-crazed serial killer with unlimited access to potential victims in a private space. The actual character of Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery) and every kill he specifically carries out do not directly reflect any real-life driver killer cases but are loosely inspired by one in particular.

Is 'Spree' Based on a True Story? (3)
Spree

NR

Horror

Comedy

Thirsty for a following, Kurt Kunkle is a rideshare driver who has figured out a deadly plan to go viral.

Release Date
August 14, 2020

Director
Eugene Kotlyarenko
Cast
Joe Keery , Sasheer Zamata , David Arquette , Kyle Mooney , Mischa Barton , Frankie Grande

Runtime
93 minutes

Main Genre
Horror

Studio
RLJE Films

What Is 'Spree' About?

Spree follows a series of murders all over Los Angeles City committed by a "Spree" (like Uber or Lyft) driver who is also a small-time influencer that is vying for fame. It begins with a series of nostalgic found-footage style Youtube framed clips introducing our awkward protagonist in familiar video trends like "how-tos" or "draw your life." Kurt also introduces "The Lesson," claiming it will be his big break, and slowly divulges its specifics. We don't really see the first few unsuspecting participants of the killing spree since the screen cuts to the next scene the second they pass out from the spiked water.

The first kill that appears onscreen is the most creative one. Three intoxicated friends (played by Frankie Grande, Mischa Barton, and Lala Kent, bizarrely enough) continue their LA nightlife adventure in Kurt's Spree ride, making it up to a rooftop junkyard with half their torsos sticking out of the car's skylight. Two of them end up being mauled by protective guard dogs while the other gets an impromptu lobotomy from Kurt's drill. But the murder that makes him go viral is the child he used to babysit who is also a successful streamer and influencer, Bobby Base Camp (Joshua Ovalle). Kurt's plans are later disrupted by the police because of a stray gunshot from a drugged K-pop star, and he is finally killed by Jessie Adams (Sasheer Zamata), a comedian who also lives by the mantra "all eyes on me." The eeriest part of the film is the comedian's final selfie with Kurt's bludgeoned face and the resulting Kurt Kunkle fan sites, cycling it back to the social media addiction that has enraptured the modern technological era.

Is 'Spree' Inspired by True Events?

Although Spree is a fictional film whose plot line doesn’t fully resemble any case of ride-share drivers going on killing sprees, director Eugene Kotlyarenko revealed after the film’s opening at the Sundance 2020 Film Festival that it was inspired by a real case. He mentioned that the film’s co-writer Gene McHugh learned about this particular case and stated: “We should take this horrible thing that happened and use it.” Kotyarenko did not reveal which specific case sparked this conversation and idea, but it is speculated that the film was based on the case of Jon Dalton, an Uber driver from Michigan who murdered six people in Kalamazoo in February 2016. Dalton ended up pleading guilty to all charges in 2019 and was charged with life imprisonment. Obviously, Kurt's unhinged spree concluded a tad more dramatically, and he also killed nine people in a fame-crazed spiral, including his parents. The Jon Dalton case was also more of a shootout while Kurt planned and promoted a more long-standing plan that lasted a full day, and it was also all recorded live. Kurt's spree realistically shouldn't have lasted the whole day, considering all reputable ride-share cars are tracked so four passengers in a row not making it to their original destination would have raised enough suspicion to investigate the driver.

How Joe Keery Prepared for His Role in 'Spree'

Keery completely trashed his charisma from his role in Stranger Things and opted for a more awkward, forced personality. To prepare for the cringe-worthy character of Kurt Kunkle, Keery spent hours scrolling through different social media platforms and particularly focused on aspiring influencers with low viewership. While speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, he said: “What was really most important to me and most helpful was watching the people who don’t have any sort of viewership at all. People who are in the single digits. Many of those people share many qualities with Kurt because they’re trying to gain some traction.” Adopting their mannerisms and tone of voice, Keery gives us the classic "intros" and "outros" accompanied by stiff hand gestures as well as the phrase that we universally know should remain unsaid: "follow for follow." Jessie Adams perfectly phrases the question we were all thinking, "Sir, are you a Twitterbot or is there a real-life human boy in there?" This research rabbit hole was actually incited by a 35-45 minute compilation of videos Kotyarenko first sent him, inspiring Keery to do further research on not only less successful influencers but more prominent, controversial ones too.

Keery also researched ride-share drivers. In the aforementioned The Hollywood Reporter interview, he also mentioned he would take ride-share lifts to work every day, learning the ways the drivers would introduce themselves and interact with a passenger. Despite the fact that the film didn't directly resemble a specific case, the creators and actors put in a lot of effort to maintain the authenticity of the character. The meticulous research behind the construction of Kurt Kunkle, alongside Keery's talented acting abilities, brought the character to life, making it fairly easy to believe the film was based on a real killing spree. They even promoted it by creating a YouTube channel, Instagram, and TikTok account after Kurt's one, Kurtworld96, rooting the character's presence in reality. The team's dedication to the character, in the film, and in promotional social media accounts, gives this chaotic film its bloody charm.

Spree is currently available to stream on Hoopla in the U.S.

WATCH ON HOOPLA

  • Movie Features
  • Horror
  • Spree (2020)

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