To explain too thoroughly the movie Catfish would be to ruin the movie Catfish, so let us just say what the fine folks over at Universal's marketing department have handed us to say (via their official movie synopsis). And I quote, "In late 2007, filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost sensed a story unfolding as they began to film the life of Ariel's brother, Nev. They had no idea that their project would lead to the most exhilarating and unsettling months of their lives. A reality thriller that is a shocking product of our times, Catfish is a riveting story of love, deception and grace within a labyrinth of online intrigue." Pretty much any deeper of a plot explanation and this whole house of cards comes tumbling tumbling down. Well, maybe just a little bit more - but we are going to have to be careful now.
The basic gist is thus - a gullible twentysomething man encounters and innocently befriends a little girl via Facebook, who is also an aspiring artist. He also becomes romantically involved (via FB and texting) with the girl's nineteen-year-old sister. Through a series of events (many of which should have been big red flags - most notably of which is why the mother of this little girl would encourage this possibly dangerous online relationship!?) Nev becomes entangled in a web of intrigue that is just too tempting to not investigate further once the aforementioned big red flags do start unfurling away. Put together using actual footage, YouTube clips, Google Maps and various other tech-savvy bullet points, Catfish is a fascinating work of filmmaking. We as viewers become as sucked into this tempting intrigue, as much victims of such, as Nev and the filmmakers do. True or not, the movie fascinates throughout.
As far as that true or not notion goes, billed as a documentary thriller, there are many reasons to believe a lot of what happens is make-believe, or at the very least, played with in a creative way. The thing is though, does it even matter what is real and what is fabrication? The whole idea, the subject if you will, of the film is based on half-truths and outright lies, so why is it so difficult to think the filmmakers are playing us just as much as they too are seemingly being played. In fact the whole idea of cinema itself is based upon fantasy - and that is exactly what we get here. Factual or make-believe (much like the recent Joaquin Phoenix/Casey Affleck middle finger film I'm Still Here) the only thing that matters is what the viewer gets out of the movie. As for this viewer, I found it to be a fascinating look at how easily manipulated people can be in this post-space age world we live in.
Much more of an indictment on the perils of Facebook than Fincher's The Social Network, Catfish, though not in the same league as Fincher's far superior film (but not much is as of late), is a film that either pisses you off or makes you yell for more. Either way, it fascinates beyond any notions of whether it is documentary reality or cinematic flapdoodlery - whether it is a thriller or not. Simply put, an intriguing and quite fascinating movie that plays with the ideas of fantasy like they are building blocks of the post-millennial moviemaking experience. There - I didn't spoil anything. [11/01/10]