Catfish is one of those films you want to tell your friends to go see but you can't tell them why. That would ruin the whole point of seeing the film, so just let them know that at only 88 minutes, their time will not be wasted.
Directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, the documentary feature is about Schulman's brother Nev, a man who falls in love with a woman on Facebook. After a few discrepancies are discovered, Nev, Ariel and Henry embark on a road trip to meet her.
In a time of moviemaking where fiction is shot to look like a documentary or a home video -- think The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and most recently, The Last Exorcism, -- Catfish is the exact opposite.
The film is a real documentary that feels like a fictional adventure movie because it does a terrific job in setting up the characters, dropping clues of potential deceit, then taking us up to the grand reveal, and its subsequent aftermath. Except all of it is real, made all the more nail biting by the fact that it could happen to any of us -- which is why it's so compelling.
With that in mind, Catfish is essentially a commentary on the dangers of social networking sites. Virtually anyone can pretend to be anything or anyone.
Catfish -- the term is explained at the end of the movie -- starts out innocently enough. Nev is a photographer who finds out he has a fan in 8-year-old Abby, a girl who lives in Michigan who likes to paint canvas versions of his photos. Soon enough, he's friends with her entire family on Facebook including her older sister Megan and all of Megan's "friends."
At this point, the documentary is fun and light-hearted. Watching Nev fall in love is actually very sweet to witness. But the film takes a darker turn on a particular day the trio discovers some discrepancies with Megan as she's corresponding with Nev.
All of a sudden, the film takes on a sense of urgency. As the guys are eager to get to the bottom of things, so too are we, since we've already become heavily invested in the outcome of Nev's love life.
This turning point is the exact spot in the film where Ariel Schulman told me in an interview that he discovered he had a real movie on his hands.
At that point, Ariel explained to me that "it was no longer a hobby, a home video, an experiment. It became a feature film." Up until then, he and Henry were basically shooting Nev for nothing but shits and giggles. The trio shared office space and often goofed off with the many cameras lying around, purely for their own enjoyment and entertainment. They thought nothing of picking up a camera and filming Nev receiving yet another package of Abby's artwork. They enjoyed teasing him as he started to fawn over Abby's hot, older sister Megan. And because they were "family," Nev made himself available for their project.
Fictional features are dependent on the appeal of their cast and Catfish is no different in it's defacto star, Nev. Besides being cute and talented, Nev is willing to be vulnerable on camera, allowing the filmmakers to film his first phone call to Megan and being willing to read his racy texts to Megan on camera. It's an adorable character trait actually. He's embarrassed as he hides under the covers to read them; we're embarrassed for him, blushing in the darkened theaters.
Though we'll never know just how much of the documentary was truly organic and how much was played up for the cameras, that's not the point of Catfish. The point is digital media is here to stay and that for every long lost friend you reconnect with on sites like Facebook, there's someone else out there that could be deceiving you. That cautionary tale alone is worth watching.