Catfish – Review


Do you have any thriller elements? Go fish.

The tagline for Catfish is “Don’t let anyone tell you what it is,” and it was probably chosen because if people did tell you what it was you’d likely not bother watching it at all. I say this for two reasons: For one it’s advertising tricks people into thinking a movie is something it’s not for an initial cash grab. The other reason is that the plot of Catfish throws viewers expecting something else for a total loop to the point that the big reveal will likely be seen as anticlimactic.

The ‘documentary’ follows Nev Schulman, a photographer from New York who strikes up a friendship with an 8-year old artistic prodigy named Abby from Michigan, who painted one of his photographs for him. The two talk via Facebook, and Nev speaks with her mother, Angela, as well both on Facebook, as well as on the phone. The entire movie is filmed with handheld cameras, directed and shot by Ariel Schulman (Nev’s brother) and their friend Henry Joost.

After a while, Nev begins to start a relationship of sorts with Abby’s 19 year-old sister, Megan, which starts on Facebook, then grows into phone calls and ‘steamy’ text messages. The film covers the almost year long relationship that Nev has with this family, mainly through Facebook, which is why he dubs them “the Facebook family,” though once Nev starts to question the validity of their story, the film turns toward the uncovering of the truth as opposed to seeing if these two kids could beat the odds and make it as a couple.

While revealing the climax of a film is never a popular thing to do in a review, for obvious reasons, it seems as though one has to step on eggshells even more when reviewing a film such as Catfish, that relies so heavily on the payoff that all the marketing is focusing on it. Personally, I hate when a film is said to have a “shocking ending” or “a twist you’ll never see coming,” as I then switch into that mindset, and nine times out of ten I’m let down by whatever the major reveal is. Curiosity got the better of me when the trailer was posted on our website, and I caved and decided to watch and see what it was about. Let’s just say once it was over I was ready for a crazy thriller of a movie regarding the dangers of how easy it can be to deceive via the Internet.

Instead, I was met with a film that wasn’t bad, but wasn’t anything that I was expecting, and because of that, the entire third act caught me completely off guard but not in a good way. While it did continue to delve into how the Internet is a place where anyone can do anything, become anyone, and create a world of their own without the true thought of real consequence they also aren’t treading on any new ground or saying anything that hasn’t been said before; this time it’s just been caught on tape. There’s also the question of whether or not the entire film was a hoax, and or, whether or not the first and second act were filled with extra shots once the filmmakers realized what they had on their hands in order to flesh out the story some more. In my opinion, it’s hard to believe this entire film was as raw as they’d like you to believe, as there are a great number of points that stand out and make you wonder why it took these smart tech-heads so long to figure out that something was up.

At one point, after Nev starts doubting everything he’s ever believed about the family, he questions whether or not Abby is even real, as they’ve never spoken on the phone because he’s told by Angela that she’s either asleep, or too tired. Seriously? Try calling at 5pm or something along those lines. In all the months Nev, Angela and Megan shared phone conversations, Abby was always asleep? The person that brought them all together and was the instigator in the entire friendship was permanently napping when not painting? That right there sounds fishier than the film’s title.

There are many believers that the entire film is real, and there are many skeptics, and this is one of the strong points of the film as good or bad, real or fake, it gets people talking. The fact is, this kind of stuff does happen, and regardless as to whether or not this film is as true as the creators are making it out to be, it still touches quite well on just how much the Internet can serve as a place to express yourself in ways you’d never dream of doing in reality. Just like the Internet-bully – a person who acts tough online because they’re hiding behind a computer screen, never worrying about repercussions because they can simply create another screen name and be someone else entirely minutes later – the Internet is also filled with sad stories of people who use it as a way of escaping their everyday lives, trying to be something they could never be in the hopes of filling part of the emptiness inside them.

Catfish is a film that will be talked about, though due to the misleading advertisements, the story that is there may be lost upon the viewers the film brings in. However, if the truth be told, this seems like a story that may be better suited for Dateline, or 60 Minutes. Then again, that would likely require that the truth be told, and for the time being, the verdict is still out on that one.

Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Notable Cast: Nev Schulman, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost

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