Catfish is a little-known documentary that is referred to by news outlets who like zippy headlines as “the other facebook movie”. The Social Network was better, but with Fincher attached and a budget of $40 million, it had a lot more to support it than Catfish did. Made by New Yorkian directors Ariel (Rel) Schulman and Henry Joost and their hand-held cameras, they detect a potentially exciting story when Rel’s photographer brother Yaniv (Nev) strikes up an unusual friendship. When a picture of Nev’s makes it into a newspaper an eight-year-old art prodigy from rural Michigan named Abby paints it and mails her work to Nev, with the blessing of her family. Over time, Nev sends more pictures to Abby, who paints them; Nev, via facebook, becomes friends with her long-haired mother, Angela; Angela’s husband Vince; and their other children, including the unfairly attractive nineteen-year-old Megan Faccio. As the months roll by, Nev and Megan’s relationship turns into something much more intimate and steamy than expected (as revealed in a hilarious scene when Nev, fitted out with his retainer, reads out the text messages the two sent to each other; by the end, when heaving bosoms are involved, he is hiding under the doona in embarrassment.) After the three boys take a trip across the country for work, they decide to spring a visit on Abby and her family to see if they are who they say they are.
There has been debate over whether this documentary is real or not, citing the fact that there was too much perfect timing of the cameras picking up the dramatic scenes. With Joost and the Schulmans hotly declaring otherwise (I may be using “hotly” in this context to imply that they are actually all pretty hot, but you decide whether I’m that shallow) we will never know, but in my totally professional opinion, I think it is real. I loved the movie, so this next part is hard to explain, but I feel that if the movie was a fake they would have made it more interesting—a few more explosions, or what have you—as it is, the movie is wonderful, but also realistic in its lack of drama. I do feel that the boys themselves, prior to or after their visit, may have reshot some scenes of their own to perhaps summarise a month’s worth of excitement into one five-minute take, or to make themselves look sensitive, or to seem cool. Some scenes seemed a little forced, but then, maybe the awkwardness of being in front of camera at all caused that. I don’t have a camera following me around on a daily basis (shocking, I know) so I couldn’t really tell you.
It is an amazingly crafted, edgy film. The handheld camera work is grainy but not shoddy, and gives the movie an intimate and involved feel. A second, better camera is used for some scenes—often Henry and Rel have a camera each and film each other—but the movie’s zany excellence resides in the use of the magic that is the internets. Characters are introduced and named by hovering a mouse over a photograph, revealing a little box with their name, a gesture that those of you who have encountered facebook know well. House shots are stills from Google Street View; locations are pinpointed by a satellite zoom on Google Maps; one great driving scene is accompanied by frame after frame of Street View looking down the road. It seems like an awkward flip book but is an amazing little montage of footage, and a good reveal of how the internet can seemingly hide nothing.
In summary: Exceeds Expectations. Look, I’m not sure why the twist is such a big secret, but I did get a little thrill of nervousness as the three men roll up the driveway towards Megan’s farm, not knowing what was going to happen. Catfish touches on some sensitive issues, and there is a lot I haven’t been able to discuss because I don’t want to ruin anything. Shoot me a comment if you’ve seen it—we can chat about scandalous spoilers in the comments, right?