This is the
trailer for Catfish. Note that it uses some pretty creepy music
in the back half, with reviews that praise its thrilling nature,
particularly the ending. Here
is the poster for the same movie. Note the horrific black-on-red color
scheme, with that enigmatic tagline: “Don’t tell anyone what it is.”
Indeed, most reviews I’ve read on the movie insist that anyone going to
see this movie would be better off going in with no prior knowledge.
Effectively, this all paints a picture of a very strange and thrilling
movie with shocking secrets at its core that would ruin the movie if
spoiled. Kinda like The Last Exorcism or Dark City.

This is a lie. The Catfish I saw was not the Catfish
advertised to me. Anything close to scary begins and ends with the barn
sequence in the trailer. Furthermore, I don’t know what movie the
critics in the trailer were watching, but the last forty minutes of the
movie I saw were quite purposefully devoid of suspense. I will, however,
grant that this movie does have a lot of secrets that are central to
its premise and that spoiling them would be a disservice. Allow me to
explain, starting from the top.

Catfish focuses on Yaniv “Niv” Schulman, a New York
photographer specializing in pictures of dance. His work attracts the
attention of Abby, a young painting prodigy in Michigan. They meet
online and Niv gradually meets Abby’s entire family on Facebook. Most
importantly, he strikes up a long-distance romance with Abby’s older
sister, Megan, that gets really heavy really quickly. Yaniv’s roommates,
a couple of amateur filmmakers, decide to film a documentary about this
online relationship and we thus have our mockumentary.

The movie does a solid job of documenting this internet love affair
in an interesting way. I was particularly fond of how the film used
Google Earth and Facebook as visual means to advance the story in many
clever ways — using Facebook’s photo tags to introduce the characters
and their names, for example. What’s more, the film is very good at
making the characters relatable and sympathetic, even though so many of
them are only voices on a phone, pictures in a computer screen or text
in a box.

At first, it seems like everything about Megan and her family is on
the level, since there’s no shortage of pictures, text exchanges, songs,
paintings and phone conversations between them, posted online and
shared with Niv. Of course, things go downhill when some discrepancies
start to show. Several lies and stories start to unravel as the movie
continues, to the point where Niv and his buddies decide to head on over
and separate reality from fiction.

The person behind all of this is finally confronted about it just
over halfway through the film. And pretty much nothing comes of it. The
film doesn’t suddenly become a mystery thriller and horror of any kind
is nowhere to be found. Any suspense that the movie had is killed with
the confrontation (that happens mostly offscreen, I might add). From
that point onward, the person behind the curtain is completely open and
even repentant about what’s been done. The rest of the movie — at least
forty minutes — is nothing more than a rundown of the lies, truths,
methods and motivations behind the whole charade. It’s all completely
and totally mundane.

Ah, but it’s unbecoming to talk about the film I didn’t see. What did
I think of the movie that I did see? Well, I thought it was a nice
little film. If The Social Network is the story of Facebook’s
past, then Catfish is the story of its present. The film isn’t
exactly must-see material and it does get heavy-handed at times, but
it’s still a competently made and very thoughtful meditation on social
networking, its uses, misuses and effects on the lives of those who use
it. If any of those issues appeal to you, then you’ll certainly enjoy Catfish
and I hope you check it out.