The success of Catfish hinges greatly on your frame of mind when you sit down to watch it. If you think you’re going to get a bone-chilling docuhorror (ala Paranormal Activity or The Blair With Project as the trailer and subsequent marketing campaign would lead you to believe), you are going to be immensely disappointed. Catfish is never scary, frightening, or spooky.
What Catfish is, though, is perhaps greater than what it initially appears to be. It’s an engaging documentary (though I suppose some might dispute the complete veracity of the subject matter) that takes the social networking experience and sheds some light on how people willingly, and very easily, allow complete strangers into their lives.
Catfish is based around Nev, a photographer in New York City, who initially develops a relationship with what he suspects is a 9-year old artistic prodigy. After one of his photos appears in a high class magazine, Nev receives a painting of the photo from Abby, and the two begin an innocent, supportive relationship, and Nev ends up befriending her entire extended family on the social networking site, Facebook.
The series of relationships seem to be going well, with everyone feeling all warm and cozy with the simplicity and genuine caring of Nev for the young prodigy. But as Nev, his brother and their friend embark on a trip for work, they begin to notice a set of irregularities among the vast correspondence between Nev and his virtual family, including Abby’s older half sister Megan, with whom Nev seems to be emotionally falling for.
So the trio decide on a spur of the moment decision to visit the tiny little village of Ipsheming, Michigan to hunt for the truth, and what they find isn’t at all what they could have ever expected.
The movie is simple in its execution, as we are along for the ride right from the very beginning. We see these relationships growing from the ground up, and when Nev starts to piece together the holes among this family with which he’s really growing attached to.
The film isn’t about the “performances”, or even where you fall on whether or not the film is completely true, as the filmmakers claim it to be. It’s about your visceral reaction to the creepy developments between Nev and this Michigan family.
For me, I felt engrossed and compelled for the entire duration of Catfish, with the mystery not being on whether or not the events are true, but with how front-line eerie it is, in the age of social networking.
The pacing of the movie is great as well, as the movie burns slowly toward Nev and Company piecing the puzzle together, and then investigating first hand what they believe to be true. That this entire family, and the relationship Nev has with them, is as phony as a three-dollar bill.
The revelation is expected and unexpected at the same time, and when it comes to the film’s final moments, the clarity of the film’s title derivation is almost worth the entire journey itself. It’s visceral and profound, while like the rest of the movie being simple and, depending on your viewpoint, “real”.
Catfish succeeds solely based on the simplicity of the film as a whole. It’s poignant, and consistently engaging, and never flails like a fish in the boat when it comes to shifting gears from a documentary that is focusing on the positive relationships created by Nev and this family, despite the fact that they only meet face to face after Nev believes he has discovered the truth about them once and for all.
Score: 8.0/10 (Great)