Film & TV

In Infamous, Bella Thorne Tackles the Danger of Social Media — With Deadly Results

Bella Thorne stars as Arielle in Infamous.
Bella Thorne stars as Arielle in Infamous. Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
Floating in the ocean off Miami Beach beneath a pitch-black sky, actress Bella Thorne took in the never-ending horizon — a sight she found both frightening and peaceful. After a long day of filming, the chance to take in her surroundings was the break she longed for.

The Pembroke Pines native was in town for a mere 48 hours to capture guerrilla-style footage for her latest film, Infamous. Speaking to New Times via Zoom, Thorne recalls the two-day adventure that had her filming scenes in Miami Beach and Key Largo.

Director Joshua Caldwell, co-star Jake Manley, and Thorne flew from Oklahoma, where the production was based, to Florida with a small crew. Thorne describes the experience as a small-budget movie with a big-budget feel.

"I think it's some of the best work in the movie in the sense of it being just natural [and] real — in the moment," Thorne says of the scenes shot in South Florida. "It couldn't have been done any other way, and having such an intimate setting really worked for those scenes."

Infamous — available on-demand — follows a young couple with larger-than-life aspirations as they embark on a cross-country adventure from Florida to California.

Arielle (Thorne) is from a little-to-do town in Florida's "Redneck Riviera" in Florida, where she meets Dean (Manley), an ex-con. She's obsessed with social media, and, like any good Zoomer, she thinks she deserves a life of fame filled with millions of followers. After the pair leaves Florida, they begin robbing their way west with an added twist: They capture every robbery, every gunshot, and every getaway for the 'Gram.

Thorne was most impressed by the effortless way Caldwell incorporated the trappings of social media into the script.

"It's so rare to find a project that features social media in such a great way where it never feels forced," Thorne says, adding that she knew she wanted the role after reading the first seven pages.

"I read so many scripts, and so many people want to put social media in a movie just to make it feel relevant," Thorne says. "Josh found this beautiful way to create a love triangle between me, Jake [Manley], and social media, and I thought that was such a great aspect of the script."
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Bella Thorne and Jake Manley
Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
The lure of social media is familiar territory for Thorne. The 22-year-old boasts more than 23 million followers on Instagram and nearly 7 million on Twitter. And as someone who been in the spotlight since age 9, she understood her character's drive for seeking attention from an ephemeral audience.

"Arielle is hungry," Thorne says. "A little of her is in every one of us. She takes our monsters, and she puts them on display, she gives them a voice."

As Thorne got to know the role more intimately, she focused on the fact that Arielle learned everything she knew about love through her phone and social media.

"And wow, does that change your life and affect the way you view the world," Thorne admits.

When asked about what advice she'd give to teenagers who may be too attached to a virtual world, Thorne lets out a deep sigh. She pauses for a moment, searching through memory for all the times she was left jaded by social media.

"There are so many topics to touch upon with that question," she says, crestfallen.

For starters, there's the feeling of inadequacy — especially when comparing yourself to others.

"Arielle thought a little bit would be enough. A lot of people think that, and then the more we go through it, the more we want it, the more it's not enough," Thorne explains. "The more you see other people have more and the more we want to get it, it just turns into this vicious cycle that we put on ourselves mentally, and it can become debilitating."

Thorne turns to Another question the film poses: How much of ourselves are we willing to surrender in exchange for getting people to notice us?

"That's the thing about social media. It can be used as this beautiful source of connection, or you can use it as a platform for bullying, and it can destroy your life slowly," Thorne says.

Infamous. Starring Bella Thorne, Jake Manley, Amber Riley, and Michael Sirow. Written and directed by Joshua Caldwell. Not rated. 100 minutes. Available now on video on demand.
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.