Is Spree based on a true story? Detailing the movie’s real-life inspirations


The 2020 satirical horror film Spree tells the story of Kurt Kunkle (played by Joe Keery), a fame-starved wannabe influencer who is willing to go to any lengths to secure the attention of his followers. In a plot not far from reality, Kunkle, a rideshare driver, live-streams the murders of his victims to become internet-famous.

Spree portrays the worst-case scenario of what could happen if the threats imposed by online influencer culture and mass murders committed for attention were to come together. It is a grim possibility that the events of Spree may not be limited to fiction for long.

Spree is a fictional story inspired by a real-life case of an Uber driver who went on a killing rampage

Director Eugene Kotlyarenko co-wrote the script for Spree alongside Gene McHugh. The scenes happening in the movie may be fictional but its story is rooted in true and unfortunate events.

According to Kotlyarenko, the script for the film drew inspiration from a real-life case of an Uber driver who went on a killing spree. During the Q&A session at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival after the premiere of Spree, Kotlyarenko said the film came to be after his co-writer McHugh said:

“We should [take] this horrible thing that happened and use it.”

Although the director did not disclose which true case provided the background for the movie, it is speculated that the case of Jason Dalton, a Michigan Uber driver who went on a shooting spree and murdered six people in Kalamazoo on February 20, 2016, likely inspired the movie, albeit loosely. Dalton was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2019 after pleading guilty to all charges.

Jason Dalton appears in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court on April 13, 2017 | Mark Bugnaski / Kalamazoo Gazette-MLive Media Group

Nonetheless, the social media angle to the movie plot was added as an afterthought months after the initial “minimalist idea” about the dangers of the rideshare economy was pitched. Kotlyarenko explained:

“[We thought] what if he’s thirsty for social media attention? What if it’s not like a documentation but like a livestream? And then [the story] became bigger because when you talk about murder and attention, that’s like an epidemic in our country, so linking all of those things together felt very necessary.”

Joe Keery watched hours of influencer content to prepare for the role of Kurt Kunkle

To successfully portray the role of the deranged and murderous influencer Kurt Kunkle in Spree, Joe Keery consumed hours of influencer content on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.

For his character research, he was guided by Director Kotlyarenko (who sent him 35 to 45-minute compilation videos of influencers who inspired Kurt) and “went down the rabbit hole”. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Keery said:

“What was really most important to me and most helpful was watching the people who really don’t have any sort of viewership at all. People who are in the single digits. A lot of those people share many qualities with Kurt because they’re trying to gain some traction. They’re trying to harvest, if you will, followers.”

Kotlyarenko also told Variety that they had watched the contents of controversial and notable influencers/streamers including Logan Paul (and his “infamous Japanese forest video”), Ice Poseidon, and Ninja to prepare Keery for the role.