Not to be confused with the Sony video game series, nor the 2006 Truman Capote film, 2020’s Infamous is more of a millennial take on 1994’s Natural Born Killers. In that, instead of focusing on the regular media’s involvement in killing, it now includes social media. Hence the tagline- “Viral fame is a dangerous game.” An interesting concept, written and directed by Joshua Caldwell (Layover 2014, Negative 2017), Infamous makes it debut on digital and in select Virtual Cinemas on Friday, June 12th via Vertical Entertainment.
In the film, a diner waitress called Arielle (Bella Thorne: Blended 2014, The Duff 2015) dreams of achieving fame and admiration instead of being stuck in some small town in Florida. She gets her chance when she falls for a recently paroled criminal called Dean (Jake Manley: The Order series, Midway 2019). They decide to go on the road, commit petty crimes, and post about them on social media to get viral success. The more followers they get, they more obsessed they get with building their reputation, until they discover their next big adventure; seek their fortune in Hollywood and take out anything- or anyone- that gets in their way.
It certainly raises an interesting question, as a few notorious, real-life cases of shootings have been committed partly to gain that notoriety for its shooter. But Infamous is aiming to be more like a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde than enacting modern-day killers. The 1930s criminal duo’s exploits sold reams of newspapers and inspired multiple short stories, articles and films years and decades afterwards. Replace that with social media and viewers have a theme to work from. But does that make Infamous any good?
It is certainly direct with its theme. Arielle browsing through an Instagram-esque account is one thing, then it is followed by a party fight surrounded by a phone-wielding crowd, then a scene of Arielle walking down the street as giant, colorful text spells out how her fight went down online (“WORLDSTAR WORTHY!” “147 NEW FOLLOWERS”). The scenes get the message across that Arielle enjoys the start of her burgeoning viral fame, though it does come off as rather obnoxious.
The characters are a little grating too. Arielle’s friends feel like they walked in from a satirical cartoon about Millennials or Zoomers. Not that the grown-ups are any more nuanced or fleshed-out, being the usual bunch of small-town outcasts akin to something from South Park or a Grand Theft Auto game. The real fleshing-out goes to the leads, as both Arielle and Dean waver between garnering the audience’s sympathy or their irritation.
Not that they are performed badly. If anything, Thorne and Manley help sell the characters through their chemistry and performance. They make a convincing couple, and each of them has a decent and believable motive behind their actions. Dean wants a quiet living through criminal means, while Arielle wants a livelier one with online adoration, and the two bang heads over it. Still, they take a little too much joy in their work and their follower count to where they just feel like more violent takes on their vapider friends. So, when they get hoist by their own petard, it leaves the audience stuck between concern or schadenfreude.
It does get better by the second half, where the duo has a quiet sequence with a local called Elle (Amber Riley: Glee series, The Wiz Live! 2015) before building up to the climax with Dean’s friend Kyle (Michael Sirow: Jack Goes Homes 2016, 9.8 m/s² 2018). The former is more introspective about social media fame and its followers, while the latter is a tidy if quick actiony wrap-up. Those grating elements from the first half get sanded off in favor of better drama. It still has its bugbears- the actual ending needed more to keep it from looking ridiculous. Nonetheless, the second half is much more engaging overall. Shame one must sit through the first 50 minutes to get there.
The direction is solid enough though. It works in a few tricks without them feeling out of place. Like the single-shot cameraman’s POV, which is sometimes the POV of either Arielle or Dean during their crimes- complete with an establishing shot of them holding a smartphone. Other times, it is just the view for the audience- like a window installed in the fourth wall to make them feel like they are part of the leads’ journey. The music is quite nice too, particularly during the tense standoff scenes where it aids the atmosphere.
In the end, is Infamous worth it? Well, it brings the thrills and some solid performances from the leads, but its overall tone is awkward and uneven. The should-I-shouldn’t-I game behind whether to root for or detest Arielle and Dean gets tiring by the halfway point, as do the small-town caricatures and HIP LINGO text displays. That all vanishes by its better second act, revealing the film’s top potential. If the script had a little more work, the film could have been a little stronger. As it is, Cryptic Rock gives Infamous 2.5 out of 5 stars.