‘Catfish’ (dir/s: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, 2010), Cert: 12A
2010 has seen a lack of documentaries; it seems the genre is beginning to fade from the big screen which I find deeply troubling. But in December, we finally have one; ‘Catfish’ and it’s probably going to cause the hardest film review I’ve ever had to write. Unlike most documentary cinema, this film survives on what is unknown, rather than on what it presents. So, let’s give this one a go, wish me luck...
In late 2007, Nev Schulman, a 24 year-old New York photographer received a package in the mail. Inside was a painting of a photograph he had taken for a publication. The image was painted by an 8 year-old girl called Abby. Nev and Abby then began a pen-pal relationship online, chatting over Facebook and other social networking sites. Soon Nev became more involved with Abby’s wider family including her mother, her sister Megan Faccio, who he has an online relationship, and her father Vince. Nev’s brother Ariel and his close friend Henry are budding filmmakers and decided to document the processes of his relationships with a family he’s never met before setting out on the road to go and visit them, but not all is as it seems, and unfortunately, that’s all I can really tell you. The film’s tagline is ‘Don’t let anyone tell you what it is’, so I’m not going to.
‘Catfish’ is certainly a film to question its genre; it’s far from a standard documentary and it provides plenty of ammunition for an argument as to whether it’s factual or fictitious, but as a picture, it works wonderfully. Much like a Hitchcock film, the audience are constantly engaged, yet concerned and probably confused with the subject matter and where the film is leading too. I personally think this film sits in the middle of ‘true and false’; some parts have to be real, it just wouldn’t work if they weren’t but other brief scenes made me question the reality of the story the trio are trying to tell. Nevertheless, this is a brave and greatly satisfying film that kept me excited and absorbed throughout.
This film is also quite sinister in its content and tone; the three guys are likeable and witty screen presences but as the picture unfolds and the mystery begins, a sense of unease swept through me. This film in many ways is much like the unforgettable and magnificent ‘Capturing the Freidmans’ (dir: Andrew Jarecki, 2003) which really blurred the lines between fact and fiction, but more importantly, being rightly and wrongly accused. ‘Catfish’ paints a far bleaker and sure-footed portrait of the online world we all seem accustomed to and it provides quite shocking results.
It’s going to stir up a fuss, and it will definitely be an audience divider but what lies underneath the surface of this movie is dark, baffling and generally rewarding. It would certainly make an entertaining episode of ‘Scooby-Doo’ if the computer happened to be a bandit under a mask. Many have been impressed by ‘Catfish’ and I’m one of them; it’s gripping, intriguing and unique. This is the social network film David Fincher really didn’t want you to see.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 – An original and incredibly audacious film that has to be seen by all. ‘Catfish’ captivates, compels and chills.
By Chris Haydon