The hook of “Catfish” is its surprise ending, one that you absolutely must not let anyone spoil for you before heading in to see this wildly intriguing and fascinating portrait of a betrayal of the contemporary Internet age. Similar to “The Social Network,” this new style of documentary plays out like a Facebook cautionary tale but to a different extent in that a person could very well not be at all who they at first appear to be within the realm of web pages.
The filmmakers Nev Schulman, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost were all supposedly subjected to intense interviewing at this year’s Sundance premiere to make sure their documentary is true in its facts. Though skeptics there may be, I believe this tale to be truthful. These people are exactly who they portray themselves to be.
It all starts when Nev, from New York, strikes up a relationship with a young girl named Abby from rural, upstate Michigan who begins sending him her paintings of published photographs he’s taken. This innocent relationship then expands to one with Abby’s entire family on Facebook. Things get most interesting when an intimate relationship unfolds between Nev and Abby’s older sister, Megan. If the shooting of this documentary started the way they claimed it did, through sheer curiosity of how this Facebook relationship would expand, then these filmmakers lucked out and found themselves one hell of a story to share. It also helps they know how to share it as this is well done storytelling through footage, Google maps, GPS navigation and, of course, Facebook.
To call “Catfish” a gimmick wouldn’t be too far from accurate, but it’s a gimmick that is a rewarding and affecting experience that can only be had once in viewing this film. Knowing too much before seeing it would ruin the experience entirely, and so, as many have already been stating, don’t let anyone ruin it.
I will say this about it, however, in hopes of not giving too much away. The foreboding build of suspense in discovering who exactly Megan from Facebook is and meeting her in person with Nev and his filmmakers is excellently nerve-jangling. It’s full of anticipation, humor and, ultimately, compassion. This is a movie that transforms as you watch it. Once that revelation hits–rather early on, I might add–it hits you in a way you couldn’t imagine. It’s expectedly discomforting but even more so unexpectedly thoughtful, poignant and even sad.