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[Reviewed by: Eric Raymer]

Don’t listen to the marketing campaign – Catfish isn’t the movie they want you to think it is. The posters ominously warn you to not “let anyone tell you what it is,” and seem to suggest some sort of thriller or horror flick. It’s unfortunate that they resort to making you play guessing games in order to see this film. With a story that’s driven primarily by events occurring on the internet, and a plot that constantly has you questioning the truth from those in front of and behind the camera, Catfish captures life in 2010 in a way that few other movies do. I’ll try to avoid giving away any of the specifics in this review, but it’s impossible to discuss this film without changing the way you’ll perceive it. If you want to go in with no preconceptions at all, stop reading now. Otherwise, read on.

First of all, Catfish isn’t a thriller, it’s not a horror movie, and it’s definitely not “The best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never directed” (as the trailer suggests). It’s also not really a documentary, because we can’t be sure of how much of what we see is true. That said, it blends elements of each of these together and plays games with you throughout the film by pretending to be all of them. A lot of the suspense in Catfish comes from trying to figure out just what kind of movie it is, and while you’re still trying to figure it out, it’s a lot of fun.

So what is it about? Well, the premise sounds sort of weak when spelled out. Catfish consists entirely of handycam footage of Nev Schulman (who in real life has tweeted about our site and is the brother of one of the directors), as he interacts with a family he met online. Nev’s a photographer who received a Facebook friend request from an artistic young girl who painted one of his photographs. He accepted it and went on to get to know the family in more depth, especially their older daughter Megan, with whom he eventually developed an online relationship. I’d love to teleport this movie back fifteen or twenty years in time and see what people thought of it or if they could even comprehend it. Most films opt to remain relatively ignorant of how the internet actually works, but without the internet, there’d be no film here.

It’s clear from the beginning that not everything is as it seems with Megan, and where most people would move on, Nev maintains his “friendship” despite some serious doubts. When we finally peer behind the curtain, the result is something both expected and not. The last portion of the film is by far the best, and although it casts the rest of the film in somewhat of a negative light, it would be impossible to separate the two. The directors deserve credit for following their film through completely to its end rather than cutting and running when things started to turn sour.

Unfortunately, there was clearly some behind-the-scenes manipulation to make the story unfold in a certain way. The reason the marketing campaign doesn’t want you to know anything about the film is because if you think too much about it beforehand its implausibility is obvious. Did Nev honestly never question the identities of the family – especially Megan? It’s really hard to believe that someone so tech-savvy would wait nine months to do a simple google search and check some basic facts. I suspect that the true nature of this film lies closer to that of Borat than anything else. It seems unavoidable that many scenes were staged, and there was definitely some editing to blend authentic reactions with false ones to give the falsehoods a semblance of truth. Viewed in this context, the directors come off as incredibly manipulative – but isn’t that appropriate for a movie whose subject is deception? Everyone involved in this film is guilty on some level, the true question is whose lies are more heinous: the directors’ or those who they turn their cameras on. This is a film about lies, filmed by liars. Despite the fact that I enjoyed it, I felt manipulated, and left the theater with sort of a bad taste in my mouth.

Nevertheless, Catfish is worth seeing. You can view it on a very basic level, taking what you see to be true. If you do, it’s a reasonably suspenseful and entertaining film. When you start to apply the film’s ideas to the film itself, a whole new layer opens up and it becomes fascinating. As a film, Catfish is an entertaining by-product of our times. As reality, it’s an unsettling reminder that we live in a world where technology constantly undermines the nature of truth. While it sometimes feels like a gimmick, it does choose to be honest at times, and when it does, it’s at its best. Catfish is without a doubt one of the most interesting and frustrating films I’ve seen this year.

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Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    The film begs lots of questions about how, and when, it became clear any of this was worth documenting, but it certainly was. I still don’t know whether this was real or not, but despite that all, I was still interested while watching this. Good review, check out mine when you can!

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