As far as the world of misleading taglines, trailers and marketing goes, Catfish might just sit at the top of a pile of movies that were intended for one audience but sold to a completely different one.
The trailer would have you believe that Catfish is the next addition to the ‘found footage’ genre, films predicated on a central character being in possession of a seemingly always-on camcorder -such as The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Rec/Quarantine, Paranormal Activity etc. However, Catfish is in all actuality a sombre documentary that observes the pitfalls of social networking through an online relationship. There’s a twist, but it’s not the tightly coiled mystery that the marketing campaign alludes to.
Nev Schulman is a young photographer, living with his brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost in New York. After receiving a painting of one of his photographs in the mail, Nev befriends the painter on Facebook -she is eight year-old Abby Pierce. Nev ends up broadening his network of friends to Abby’s mother and her older half-sister Megan. It’s here that the documentary kicks off properly, with Ariel and Henry filming the relationship that blossoms between Nev and Megan, one conducted through phone calls and the internet. The premise doesn’t extend to much more than this, but when doubts are cast as to Megan’s agenda, the three filmmakers travel across the country to finally meet her.
As a documentary, Catfish is a touching and moving piece of work that deals with social afflictions and mental health problems with a gentle calm. It never resorts to finger-pointing and the filmmakers carry an understanding of the range of adversities that their onscreen subject is dealing with throughout.
Many detractors have readily called into question the authenticity of the film. The camera always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and there’s a point in the second act when you wonder just why they’re bothering to continue given the information provided to them. But, this aside, Catfish is at its best when fully-focused on the issues that encompass the later acts -it’s almost a love story at times, one shrouded in the mass confusion of social networking. What lets the piece down, however, is that huge cloud of doubt that hangs over the entire thing, thanks in part to the complete mis-advertising -because of this, we may never know whether Catfish is a complete document of reality or a feature masquerading as one.
- Between a rock and a hard place – 127 Hours: review - January 13, 2011
- No stinkers here! The 10 best films of 2010: a year in review - December 31, 2010
- 10 films to look forward to in 2011 - December 27, 2010