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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10.53%
Worth A Look47.37%
Average: 10.53%
Pretty Bad: 31.58%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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by Brett Gallman

"A 21st Century Fish Story"
4 stars

Usually, a twenty-something guy who strikes up an online relationship with an eight year old girl would be the creepy one. In the world of "Catfish,"however, that's just an otherwise normal starting point for a bizarre journey that will let your imagination run wild before revealing some poignant, affecting truths about the internet and social networking as an escapist tool.

After photographer Nev Schulman begins a correspondence with artistic prodigy Abby Pierce, his brother Ariel and friend Henry begin documenting the relationship. Even though this would usually involve a visit from Chris Hanson, we soon learn that there's no malicious intent on Nev's part. Abby just happened to see one of his photos in a magazine, painted a reproduction of it, and sent it to him. As the two become closer, Nev gets to know the rest of Abby's family, including her mother, father, and older half-sister, Megan.

A mutual attraction develops between he and Megan, and the two soon find themselves in a long-distance relationship; cracks begin to form, however, when the guys notice that Megan has apparently been lying about certain aspects of her life. Drawn in by the mystery, they hit the road to find Megan, only to discover that they've been duped by an elaborate fabrication.

You'll probably be able to conjure up all sorts of horrifying possibilities of what these three encounter; after all, we've all heard the horror stories involving online predators, and "Catfish"definitely seems to prey on those fears to an extent. As the three protagonists continue to unravel the mystery, you may begin to wonder if curiosity won't kill the cat, as it were. Cinematic excursions like this typically end with all three receiving a hatchet to the face when "Megan" is revealed to be a psychopathic product of inbreeding.

What they find, however, is nothing of the sort; instead, they uncover a deeply sad, pathetic story, which may disappoint viewers looking for something darker and edgier. I was pleasantly surprised by the turn of events, as it transforms "Catfish" into a fascinating rumination on how we can employ the internet to construct alternate realities for ourselves. In a world where social networking is destroying online anonymity, we find here that some people still need to get away from themselves and the reality that's disappointed them. As such, the film morphs from a not-so-hard-boiled detective story (these flippant guys can hardly be considered master sleuths) to a human interest story that's perhaps more at home on the 6:00 news.

Nev's reaction to all of this is quite satisfying; one would naturally feel anger and resentment after being tricked, but his understanding and empathy is key. "Catfish" becomes an interesting document of one person's desperate attempt to not only craft a false reality, but also reach out and draw another into it. Maybe that other person would validate the entire fantasy, but I think it can be distilled to something more simple: sometimes you just need someone to hear your voice, and Nev happens to be that person. If you're an artist with no audience, what good is your performance?

From a visual standpoint, "Catfish"drops us into a sea of familiar, techno-signification: Facebook, Google maps, Youtube, and more are all on prominent display. These are inescapable touchstones, and the film exploits our familiarity and exhibits how they've all made our world a much smaller place. "The Social Network" was built upon the subtle irony that social networking actually manages to develop chasms, and "Catfish"is built on a similar premise. In theory, online networking should help us to discover new, exciting people and things, which it does--but it somehow takes a roundabout trajectory like the one found here.

The central debate surrounding "Catfish"is its authenticity; it's presented as a documentary, but plenty of valid points have called its veracity into question. I don't think it matters because it feels authentic enough, and, even if it isn't a true story, its truths are no less valid. In fact, it may be richer if it's an exercise in meta-fictional gymnastics; in a film that's ostensibly about building realities out of white lies, should we really be surprised if its form is following its own function? If "Catfish" is a lie, it's one that's still erected out of truth, not unlike most art.

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originally posted: 11/10/11 10:19:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/04/11 millersxing An awkward tonal shift sends it careening down the slippery slope of unintentional comedy. 3 stars
1/27/11 othree The other side of FaceBook, no hype, no Finale Destination, just a story, but well done 4 stars
10/28/10 tooktheredpill yep, not a confronting horror but worth seeing 4 stars
10/19/10 Justin Easily the most suspenseful documentary I've ever seen. Uncomfortably so at times. 5 stars
10/06/10 newsphotog6801 not what the trailers suggests 3 stars
9/29/10 nizzann Hmmmm.... I think it's really ........ hmmmmm. 4 stars
1/25/10 sucharita kundu great ... 5 stars
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  17-Sep-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Jan-2011

  17-Dec-2010 (12A)

  05-Aug-2010 (PG)
  DVD: 04-Jan-2011

Directed by
  Henry Joost
  Ariel Schulman

Written by


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