Movie Review: Catfish (2010)

Nev Schulman in Catfish
Photo: Rogue Pictures

Catfish, yet another over-hyped Sundance Film Festival acquisition, is the anti-social network film of the year. This debatable documentary details the budding new relationship between Nev, a New York City photographer who begins corresponding back and forth with Abby, an 8-year-old Michigan girl, after she paints a photograph of his and sends it to him. Impressed by her work things go way beyond a cute relationship with a young girl to the point Nev creates an online relationship with Abby’s sister, Megan. But as things between Megan and Nev begin to heat up secrets bubble to the surface causing for an, at times, thrilling feature.

Directed by first time feature documentarians Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Nev’s brother), Catfish falls in line with the popular 2010 documentary trend of “Is it real or is it fake?” such as Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop and the mockumentary I’m Still Here. Whether this one is real or not is a bit of a toss-up along the lines of Banksy’s film, but I wouldn’t say it has any effect on its overall quality. It has its share of entertaining moments and does have one scene that may be mildly suspenseful to some, but to others it will be the moment they say, “Okay, this can’t be for real,” or as the person sitting next to me in the screening leaned over and asked, “Is this like a Blair Witch thing?” No it’s not, but such a question does raise a matter of the film’s validity.

However, real or not, Catfish touches upon a very prominent aspect of most people’s lives today, the use of social networking sites, and primarily Facebook.

The online world can be a scary place. Have you ever started a relationship with anyone online? Have you started dating them or would you ever let it go that far? Just who exactly is on the other side of this virtual relationship?

Catfish deals with these questions in a very real way. Instead of calling this a documentary, perhaps a social networking exposé is more appropriate. Either way, there are flashes of intrigue here, but I can’t say I was fully invested for the duration.

Perhaps Catfish should be shown to school children from a very young age, as it details in a rather down to earth way just how scary things can get when you put too much trust in your online “friends.” This film has more twists than an M Night Shyamalan movie and until the rather sickly sweet ending it’s an interesting ride to be a part of. I can’t say it stuck with me for more than 15 minutes after leaving the theater, but I’m sure there’s someone that can gain from its message.