Every once in a while, a movie comes along like Catfish that seems to pull people in based solely on the reason that it is being marketed as a "twist" movie that needs to be seen to be believed. I typically have reservations about these movies because I feel like the hype of the movie (and specifically the twist) will have become so big that there is no way the movie can live up to it. The marketing for Catfish makes it out to seem like a pseudo-horror movie with some dark secret lurking in the shadows. Even the poster, with it's red on black color scheme suggests something pretty sinister. This ends up being a fairly questionable marketing strategy because while it does hook people in, it doesn't exactly deliver what it seems to promise. That is actually a good thing though because where Catfish ends up going was genuinely surprising and was done in such an anti-climatic way that I have no reason to question the movie's authenticity.
For those who have yet to see the movie, don't worry, I have no intention of spoiling Catfish for you. The basic setup though is that a photographer (Nev Schulman) begins receiving paintings of his photos from an 8 year old artist named Abby. He slowly develops a friendship with her whole family through Facebook and eventually starts a "relationship" with Abby's older half sister Megan. Two aspiring filmmakers (Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost) who share an office with Nev in New York see the potential for a good short documentary film and begin filming Nev's story as he gets closer to this family. The three of them end up getting a gig not too far from where the family lives and decide that once they are finished shooting there, they would stop by the family's house so they can all finally meet.
It's unfortunate that this movie has come out the same time as Casey Affleck's I'm Still Here, which has turned out to be a fabricated story being sold as a real Documentary. We now know that Joaquin Phoenix was playing a character the whole time and that it was not a documentation of his emotional "downfall." The movie was meant to be an interesting study on the fact that if we see someone playing "themselves" and it's billed as real, then most people will take the creators word for it, no matter how outlandish the subject matter is. I fear this will cause people to be cynical towards movies like Catfish, which I think is in fact 100% real. It would be a shame if the true message of the movie gets lost in the arguments over the authenticity of it.
The screening of the movie I attended was followed by a quick Q&A session with director Ariel Schulman and star Nev Schulman. The question came up about their response to people wondering whether the movie was real or not and their response was quite simple. They themselves never even thought that some people would consider it all a hoax because they lived through it so of course it was real. Nobody likes being duped and I think for that reason, some will still stand by their feeling that the movie was faked simply because that way if it ever came out that it was a hoax, they could line up to give you a nice and quick "I told you so." I don't think that moment will ever come so it's unfortunate that those unwilling to make that leap of faith in the filmmakers are losing out on the important issues the movie brings up.
I apologize for being cryptic but this really is a movie that should not be spoiled. I may do a more spoiler filled post at some point depending on the response to the movie as it becomes more well known but in the meantime, I suggest trying to find a local showing in your area. I didn't walk out 100% loving the movie as I felt there were some things that placed the movie in a morally grey area that I am still trying to sort out, but I am glad I got the chance to see it. It won't change the way you use Facebook, but it may make you question how you chose to communicate with people over the internet that you don't personally know.