Universal // 2010 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // January 4th, 2011
Don't let anyone tell you what it is.
Few films have sparked the same levels of post-viewing discussion this year as Catfish, a supposed documentary that examines the loopy world of online relationships. The movie's authenticity has been brought into question (the filmmakers maintain it's all genuine, others aren't so sure), and whilst I can only speculate on that topic, the characters and situations feel organic enough to pass for reality. However it's not that facet of the project that renders it one of the year's most intriguing pictures, but rather its unpredictable narrative, meaningful central message, and some pretty taut suspense.
Catfish is primarily interested in Nev, a hip New York photographer who receives a painting of one of his photos from an 8-year-old named Abby. Nev begins to build an online friendship with Abby and her family through Facebook, eventually beginning to fall for the youngster's step-sister, 19-year-old Megan. Nev begins to start a flirtatious romance with Megan through various forms of media, whilst two filmmakers (Nev's brother Ariel and buddy Henry) decide to chronicle the relationship through their cameras. However after a few odd exchanges and some discrepancies concerning the family's life story the trio begin to suspect something is wrong, thus embarking on an impromptu trip to visit Megan in Michigan. What they find is by turns shocking and heartbreaking.
Catfish has been heavily buzzed about since appearing at the 2010 Sundance festival, and now it's arrived on DVD for the whole world to enjoy. I was genuinely entranced by the movie for the entirety of its speedy runtime; each new development the story offers is more gripping than the last. Some of the marketing material for the picture suggested the movie was a raw thriller, cut in the vein of backwoods terror efforts like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This is of course far from the case; the revelations at the end of Catfish are indeed shocking, but they instill sadness rather than fear. That said, the production still musters plenty of crackerjack tension as the filmmakers begin to suspect all is not well, audiences are dragged through plenty of nail biting moments as the protagonists begin to solve the film's puzzle.
It's been a terrific year in cinema regarding commentary on internet networking, with both Catfish and David Fincher's sublime The Social Network decoding the Facebook craze very insightfully. One has to tip toe around the point when it comes to Catfish (giving away the ending would be a terrible sin), but it's fair to say that the movie's main point of fixation is with how social networks allow us to hide behind a veil of online secrecy. You can be anybody you want on your Facebook profile, and indeed with a suitable amount of effort you can even create an imaginary universe for yourself to inhabit. Catfish probes these concepts wonderfully, and ends on a bittersweet note of tragedy that almost suggests the realm of Facebook has in some people's lives become more relevant than day to day living. Catfish presents these observations pointedly, and within a compelling narrative filled with surprises and twists.
There are some ethical dilemmas that arise with the film's climax, as certain figures remain left in the dark over the whole debacle, and others are in a position where their full consent about appearing in the film would have been impossible to attain. However I'm willing to overlook this because the filmmakers appear to be fair and discerning guys, more interested in telling their story than making anybody out to be creepy or pathetic. The central themes and discoveries are also too important to be left unspoken, Catfish bringing to the table concrete examples of the havoc mysterious social networking bonds can cause. One must remember that Catfish is fuelled by emotion; after it's all over Nev has seemingly transformed from an artist in love to a rather jaded and highly disappointed cynic.
As far as the product's legitimacy goes I'm going to wager that Catfish is indeed an accurate version of real events, namely because the plot really is stranger than fiction. The one thing that does make me slightly suspicious though is the competency of the camerawork. I realise Henry and Ariel are aspiring filmmakers with a likely credible understanding of industry technology, but still, some of the cinematography and shot construction here feels a little too sharp for untested and financially constrained debuting directors. It's just a thought.
This DVD from Universal only has one bonus feature, but it happens to be a fascinating 25 minute Q&A with the filmmakers. Nev, Henry and Ariel cycle through a selection of well constructed questions, and answer with honesty, intelligence and passion throughout. They have no issues tackling some of the more controversial elements of the production, and on the whole continue to sell themselves as nice unassuming gentlemen. Of course it could all be a facade (like the movie), but it's a strong watch none the less.
Catfish is the last word on personal reinvention through social networking, and is highly recommended. The DVD courtesy of Universal is technically solid, and at least the one article of added content it offers is of exceptional value. I'd have no hesitation in suggesting those interested purchase this disc.
Review content copyright © 2011 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Cinema Verdict Review