Them: “What movie did you see?” Me: “That one about Facebook. Not the –.”
Them: “The Social Network? That movie was great!” Me: “No, the one about the guys who hunt down a Facebook friend in real life.”
Who would have thought we’d eventually have a movie about Facebook, let alone two at the same time? What’s even more surprising is how different Catfish turned out to be from what we expected after seeing its trailer video. It’s not the shock of the year, or even of the month, but it’s not what most will walk into the theater expecting.
My review will have spoilers since the entire movie is about the secrets the trailer tries to hide from you. Xander’s review has less spoilers than Barr’s review or mine, but if you want a spoiler-free review then you should just trust all three of our good review scores and go see this movie!
Replace the trailer’s ominous feeling of foreboding creepiness with surprise and intrigue and you’ve got Catfish. That’s because nothing sinister happens, and the movie is actually far from fake. The ABC TV interviews that followed the movie’s release proves it’s actually entirely real, which makes me instantly want to rewatch it from start to finish.
A young girl (Abby Wesselman) in Michigan befriends Nev (Yaniv Schulman, a New York City photographer) on Facebook and begins painting some of the photos he uploads. As time goes on it changes from a random encounter to full blown infatuation as Abby continually mails him her precocious paintings. Nev is shocked and honored, and Abby’s mom befriends him as well, so he doesn’t feel awkward as he continues to help her with reference material.
Soon the whole family starts messaging him on Facebook with mostly nice things to say, and Abby’s older sister (“Megan Wesselman”) even begins to flirt with Nev. At this point Nev’s friend (Henry Joost) and brother (Ariel Schulman) realize that filming him and his Facebook encounters demands more than just small YouTube sized video clips, and they begin to interview him more often.
Eventually it appears as if Nev has successfully started a meaningful romantic relationship online; she even starts sending him songs she wrote and sang just for him. It becomes noticeable that he’s toying with the idea of meeting Megan in person, but then it all comes crashing down when he realizes one of her songs is a fraud. She insists it was just meant to be a cover song, but it’s too late. The seed has been planted, and inception has occurred.
Nev and his friends quickly tear through everything tidbit of information that’s been revealed to them by Megan and it becomes far worse than they thought. Megan’s not a pathological liar; the whole family is. All of Megan’s songs are stolen; Abby’s art studio is listed online as being vacant for four years; why has he spoken to Megan and her mother on the phone several times, but never with the young painter, Abby?
Nev appears more impressed than betrayed, but once his friends force him to continue the façade and milk the situation he grows uncomfortable. Unhappy with being stuck as the main character in a story he no longer has interest in, it takes some coercing before they can get him to agree to their plan: they intend to fly across the country to investigate this enigma in person.
Even though I thought it would be with violent or sexual intentions, this is the point in the movie I was expecting. This is when I started clenching my seat in fear of what was about to come. To make things worse, they arrive at night and decide they can’t wait until morning to snoop around. I was fully expecting a horror scene to unfold, but from here on everything is completely different than what the trailer hints at. I’ve spoiled the first half enough, so you’ll have to see the anti-climactic last half on your own for the surprise.
I felt let down that it wasn’t a scary movie at all, but instead a calm documentary in disguise. Reviewing movies shouldn’t be done on the basis of how they live up to their trailers though, but instead on what it set out to achieve, and how much or how well it achieved its goals. In that sense, Catfish is quite the indie project that deserves more viewers than it’s received. It reminds me of how TV and newspaper journalists wait their whole lives for that one scoop that’s so popular that they get the opportunity to expand it into an entire film or book, like Jon Krakauer did with the Into the Wild novel.
It’s great that they didn’t waste their opportunity, and the pacing and video editing were good, but the last third was still a bit uneventful. Since it was unscripted it was mostly out of their hands how things unfolded, and they kindly chose to confront those involved as gently as possible, but it just didn’t have as big of a payoff as I expected. Yelling and shouting wouldn’t have improved it, it just wasn’t destined to be as interesting as you were hoping halfway into the film.
He even sits down with the culprit for a lengthy, tear-filled conversation, and it will definitely have you talking about it for a few days, but it’s not all that emotionally moving. Not all movies need to be though, so I’m glad Catfish did its own thing, and it even gets around to showing how its secret title is actually quite fitting. Most will love seeing this Facebook story in theaters, but if you want something as sinister – and surprisingly also based on true online events – as you may have expected from the trailer, then it sounds like TalHotBlond might be the movie you’re looking for.
Overall Score: 7.35 — Good. (7s are good, but not great. These films often have a stereotypical plot or are great movies that have a few minor flaws. Fans of this movie’s genre might love it, but others will still enjoy seeing it in theatres.)
Overall Score: 7.65 — All you really need to know is that Catfish is an engrossing story speaking very much for the nature of its time – if ever a film is to be considered emblematic of the follies of the Information Age, this will be hard to beat – and driven by a charismatic lead in Nev, who tackles the situation with a mixture of understandable bafflement and infectious good humour. Read his full review (and partial Q&A) here!
Overall Score: 7.90 — Catfish is exciting and entertaining. If you can deal with the lo-fi nature and take what you see at face value, you will have a great time. Contrarians and skeptics check your attitude at the door. Read his full review here!