Is it real or is it fake? That is most likely going to be what most people debate after watching CATFISH, a film with a criminally deceiving marketing campaign. The trailer and poster suggest a foreboding event that people will inevitably sit and wait for, myself included. I admit to expecting something different than what I actually watched, but admitting that doesn’t change the way the film impacted me. The film unfolds so good that while your perception of rather or not these events are real or stage may shape your views on the characters but either way I feel the emotional impact is the same. In the spirit of the marketing scheme I will not dish out information regarding the last half of the film except to say this, if this is all real then this is some truly heartbreaking stuff, if it’s all fake then there is something inherently mean spirited about the way the material is presented but is still heartbreaking, just in a slightly different way.
CATFISH is a documentary that follows Nev, a photographer in New York, who has one of his published pictures painted by an 8 year old girl, Abby. He begins talking with Abby through emails and often sends her more pictures for her to paint and sell in her hometown in Michigan. Nev starts communicating with other members of Abby’s family like her mother, Angela and more specifically her older sister, Megan. Megan and Nev start an online relationship, communicating through Facebook, texts and phone calls. Nev’s brother and friend are documenting the entire web of communication, and find that Megan begins taking credit for songs by other people that she claims to have performed herself. After discovering the inconsistencies the trio head off to Michigan to get the truth out of Megan and her family.
First and foremost I’d like to come right out and say that I believe the best way to approach this film is to go in assuming that everything you are seeing is real. Personally, I prefer and believe that everything I saw actually happened despite how conveniently it all fits together. Emotionally it just has greater value if you buy in to it all and take the journey right along with Nev. The characters all feel real and the subject matter all fits in with technology and problems we face in real life every day.
Given that the film is presented as a documentary the names of the characters are the names of the people in real life and because these are the actual people the performances are almost irrelevant to critique. You never really doubt that anyone is faking anything so they don’t even feel like a performance which adds to the argument that the events happened in real life. The people all feel and act like people you know in real life, and the emotions they go through all rang true when it came time for the emotional payoffs to start rolling in.
The argument of real or fake is really the only aspect of the movie where faults and criticisms can be found. All the material leading up to the last half of the film is compelling and entertaining. There are a lot of laughs along the way and all the emotions seem genuine. Going in to the last half looking at it with the true events perspective the events are all equally if not more compelling and heartbreaking. If you take the position of everything being staged the events become very mean spirited almost to a fault. It becomes slightly more difficult to sympathize with Nev and his buddies yet the events still seem to carry a great emotional impact even if it is slightly less so from a staged perspective. If it’s fake then the writing is very sharp, focused and acted incredibly.
Visually there isn’t anything overly spectacular, since many of the scenes are filmed with a handheld camera that has a noticeable level of grain to it. I did love the 8 bit Universal logo and introduction as well as the transitions from scene to scene. The integration of modern technology like Facebook, Google Earth and Google Maps all add to the means at which the subject matter is presented. Characters refer constantly to Facebook for messages and photos and use what looks like Google Earth to represent where characters are at that certain time; it’s a subtle visual cue that fits in perfectly with the film.
CATFISH is a film that conveys the social inaccuracies and dangers of Facebook in a compelling and oddly disturbing way. The film presents a tense theme but relies far more heavily on real human drama and exceeds well on every level. It’s a certainty that there are people that will feel cheated and deceived by the misleading trailer, but the subject matter on display is very timely and important. It is important in a way that will hopefully open the eyes of the younger generation that use and flaunt themselves far too heavily in the social networking age.