Catfish

5 Mar

Director: Ariel Schulman (2010)

I pride myself on the fact that I have met all 338 of my Facebook friends in person. Yes it may have been for one night at a party, a tenuous friend of a friend or on the back of a bus in Germany, but I have seen all of their faces and therefore can vouch that the person on their profile is indeed the person I once met. But poor Nev Schulman was not so fortunate.

I remember seeing the trailer for Catfish in the cinema last year and thinking ‘holy moly this looks good’. I’ve always been a fan of the mockumentary genre with its lo-fi camera work and kooky protagonists but this one made the bold claim that it was “not inspired by true events. Just true”.

Then again when I was 11 I believed the hype behind Blair Witch Project and believed that was true, a belief that resulted in a lot of electricity wastage sleeping with the lights on for a week before discovering it was all a clever marketing ploy…

Either way, despite my initial intrigue, Catfish managed to evade me and I never got round to seeing it until now. My cynical belief that the film was not real actually made the viewing all the more disturbing and stomach churningly uncomfortable – this cannot be true? Right….?

Nev is a photographer from New York where he lives with his brother Ariel and friend Henry, and also our film directors, shooting his life for a documentary. We learn that he has a bit of a fan in the shape of an eight year old girl, a painter from Ishpeming, Michigan who sends him paintings of his photographs. They become Facebook friends (alarm bells could possibly start a gentle chime by befriending an 8 year old girl/why is an 8 year old girl on Facebook?!) and soon, their friendship extends to Abby’s entire family specifically her mother Angela and particularly her older sister, Megan. Nev and Megan hit it off, as much as one can on Facebook, exchanging lovely messages, photographs and music Megan and her family make together. All is going swell until Nev notices the mp3s Megan has been sending are actually performances from other people on YouTube… Obviously upset, and embarrassed, Nev is devastated but Ariel persuades him to continue the relationship and go to Ishpeming to meet her, all while being filmed for the documentary.

This is when it all starts going a bit off course… and when the concept of this all being real becomes all the more terrifying –and possible. I do believe this happened. I think. But my hesitancy really comes from how feasible it could be for this to happen to someone. Or rather someone else, which it undoubtedly will have done! Just not everyone had the foresight to document it with a video camera… I am staying purposely vague so not to ruin the surprisingly heart wrenching and emotional second half of the film. You really have to see if for yourself to understand, and all the more if you are one of those people who add randoms on Facebook. Heads up – don’t.

As a film, Catfish is well orchestrated and directed, Nev, Ariel and Henry seem like genuinely nice guys who you would love to go on a road trip with and also grow to care what happens to them. One of my favourite aspects is the way in which internet technology is integrated into the design of the film, from sped up scrolling type to illustrate how quickly and easily a relationship can progress online to the use of Google maps and Street View to chart their journey to Ishpeming. Even the explanation of the relevance of catfish to the film’s title works to make sure this film sticks under your skin.

From the trailer, Catfish seemed to be portrayed as a thriller and while this was not a complete turn off, when I started watching the film, and the relatively slow start to the film, a small part of me I started to worry that it would descend into the unfortunate pitfall where the ominous family turn out to be some vile result of a crazed geneticists inbreeding experiment ala Wrong Turn/Creep/Cabin Fever in order to achieve a suitably ‘thrilling’ ending. Thankfully they didn’t. In truth, what is revealed is much more poignant and something that will surely stick with you for a while, particularly the next time you click that blue button to ‘Accept Friend Request’.

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