Review: Catfish (2010)
Note: This post contains a portion of a review originally written for CaryCitizen. To read the full review, click here.
“Don’t let anyone tell you what it is.” So runs the tagline for Catfish, a new documentary that has been marketed as containing a plot twist so astounding that to have it spoiled would ruin the film. Don’t believe the hype. While it would still be wise to avoid spoilers before seeing the film, knowing what discoveries are ultimately made doesn’t take away from the film’s beauty, poignancy and relevance.
Catfish follows Nev Schulman, a New York photographer who lives with his brother Ariel and buddy Henry Joost. When Abby, a budding ten-year-old child artist, sends him a painting of one of his photographs, the two quickly become pen pals. Through Facebook and other online networking devices, Nev eventually makes contact with Abby’s family, specifically her mother Angela and half-sister Megan. It isn’t long before he and Megan are in a long-distance relationship, despite the fact he’s never met her in person. Ariel and Henry document the entire experience with their camera, but things get tense when it becomes apparent Megan might not be who she claims to be, eventually inspiring the group to drive to Michigan and meet her face-to-face.
Yes, there’s a twist. Yes, it’s rather shocking when you stop to think about it. But this isn’t a mockumentary being passed off as a documentary in the vein of I’m Still Here or The Virginity Hit. If you go in expecting things to perhaps turn horrific, like some sort of non-fiction version of The Blair Witch Project, you will be disappointed. The reveals of Catfish are not those of a Hollywood movie. There are no close-ups on expressions of disbelief combined with obligatory dum-dum-DUMs in the musical score. Because this is a documentary in which the audience discovers things along with the filmmakers, answers are revealed gradually and without much accompanying hoopla. It’s only after taking the time to consider the full implications of certain events that their emotional weight becomes apparent. This isn’t a film that depends solely on its twists, but a sad and compelling account of how social isolation leads people to seek intimacy wherever they can get it, even with strangers on the internet.