Hot on the heels of I’m Still Here comes another so called documentary whose authenticity is suspicious, Catfish. And again, while I would urge hesitation on the part of those who have viewed it, I can’t fully say how much of it is fake, if any. Given the concept and ending, of which I can’t divulge, my bet would be on fiction. Chance occurrences as outlandish as this simply do not happen.
If you’ve seen the trailers for Catfish, you’re undoubtedly interested in how it plays out. Critics across the country have claimed that the ending is “a shattering conclusion” and its posters and ads have warned, “Don’t let anyone tell you what it is,” and in not telling you what it is, I’m going to have trouble conveying my feelings towards the film. What I can say is that the ending is not what you expect. Giving off the sense that it suddenly turns into a horror film, the trailer is misleading, one of the biggest misrepresentations of a movie I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, the hype and interest regarding the ending is much ado about nothing. It’s not that shocking, at least in traditional cinematic terms.
But it works in terms of reality. To say why would be giving it away, so proceed with caution, though I’ll do my best to be vague. The film begins with two documentary filmmakers, Henry Joost and Rel Schulman, as they decide to film Rel’s brother, Nev, as he embarks on a relationship with a family that lives hundreds of miles away. Nev is a photographer in New York City and one of his pictures ended up in a local newspaper. Somehow, a Michigan family got a hold of it and had their 8 year old artist prodigy, Abby, paint it. At first, it’s simply a casual relationship; he sends her pictures he has taken and she paints them for him. But as time goes on, he connects with the rest of the family, including Abby’s beautiful half sister Megan. He and Megan, though they have only spoken over the phone and Internet, immediately connect. But soon it seems Megan may not be who she seems, so Nev makes a surprise trip to visit the family and get to the bottom of it.
“Internet” is the key word in that description. In this digital age we live in, everybody is connected through the Internet and falsifying information can be quite easy. In certain ways, we all live double lives. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook and communicate with them daily through status updates and event invites, yet we are only true friends with a select few. The people reading our information online know so little about us that we could make up anything and pass it off as fact. That, put as broadly as I could in relation to the movie, is what makes Catfish work. It’s timely and works on its own terms, even if the ending fails to live up to the hype made by the foolish marketing campaign.
It’s a shame because there is an interesting movie here that explores issues of loneliness and belonging, showing people (characters?) who use the Internet to spice up their drab lives and play others for fools, even if that is not their intent.
The movie, even through its sometimes slow and plodding story, rests on Nev (assuming he is a real person) and he is charismatic and likable. He’s good looking, funny and lonely, even if he pretends not to be. He's the perfect catalyst to set these crazy events into motion.
But in the end, those events won't be crazy enough to live up to the hyped up ending. I fear that may hurt this movie’s reputation because those who see it will be disappointed, as was I, but those who can look past that and discover why it still works on relatable terms to today will find something more, though that bad taste left by the marketing campaign will linger on.
Catfish receives 3.5/5