We’ve heard it all before: in today’s digital culture, we literally have the world at our fingertips. Still, deception happens. Just because inconsistencies and outright lies can be debunked with the click of a mouse or tap on the iPhone, doesn’t mean people constantly question what’s right in front of them. When individuals are more surrounded and more isolated than ever, they’re less likely to investigate matters of the heart – anything to combat the loneliness, right?
“Catfish” has built an entire marketing campaign on knowing next to nothing about the film, and therefore it’s challenging to review it. What I will say is that the movie brings forth a very familiar story, but raises questions that aren’t so familiar. If you’re like me, your reaction to “Catfish” may change daily – but the fact that I’m still contemplating five days later must be significant.
A few years ago, New York filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel (Rel) Schulman started documenting the online friendship of Rel’s brother Nev, a 24-year-old photographer, and Abby, an 8-year-old Michigan prodigy who enjoys making paintings from Nev’s photos. Through Facebook, Nev becomes acquainted with Abby’s family: her mother Angela, and beautiful older sister Megan. But, as Nev and the filmmakers’ impromptu road trip to Michigan will reveal, something more sinister is afoot.
As secrets and lies are revealed in “Catfish”‘s latter half, I found myself questioning not only the subjects of the film, but the trio behind it, including Nev himself. At what point did they become suspicious that things weren’t quite what they seemed? Did this moment of discovery take place on camera, as the film wants us to believe? Or did it happen long before, and filming continued because, well, they wanted to make a movie? Even as the filmmakers painted themselves as innocent victims against a deceptive force, I asked myself if they weren’t in the know all along. Sure, entire lives are documented for public consumption, but where does an ethical filmmaker draw the line? As “Catfish” illustrates, the answer isn’t so clear and the results can be tragic.
Combining celluloid, screenshots, and computer graphics without being obnoxious, “Catfish” is a well-made little film that never bores. And while certain elements may leave a bitter taste in your mouth, the film will also leave many thoughts in your head about the media that has the potential to take over a life, and in some cases, create it.