By Elena Cresci
We are, without a doubt, the Facebook generation. Nowadays it’s the norm to share almost every aspect of our lives in the name of social networking; the vast majority of us will have revealed a mountain of information about ourselves online. Earlier this year, The Social Network told the tale of how Facebook began. Now, documentary Catfish provides proof of the integral part social networking plays in shaping our perceptions of others, whether we’ve met them in person or not.
When photographer Nev Schulman receives a painting of one his photographs by 8-year-old painting prodigy Abby, he begins an internet relationship with her entire network of family and friends. Through Facebook and other means, Nev grows increasingly close to the family, particularly to Abby’s beautiful sister Megan, who is a dancer and a songwriter. Nev’s brother, Rev Schulman, and friend, Henry Joost, spot an opportunity to put their documentary skills to practice. As they document the budding romance between Nev and Megan, they begin to suspect that all is not as it seems with this ‘Facebook family’.
Catfish won’t be what you expect. It’s been dubbed a ‘reality thriller’, and even the trailer would lead you to believe that some sort of monster will end up appearing, Cloverfield style, but thrill-seekers will inevitably be disappointed. What does emerge is a fascinating, thought-provoking feature which examines key aspects of human nature framed by our obsession with putting our entire lives on show on the internet. It turns out that Nev is a good choice of documentary subject, and viewers will find it easy to want to watch this part of his life pan out. The interactions between him and his documenters often bring about some hilarious moments, particularly one involving Nev sharing some of his more risqué texting exchanges with Megan.
Unlike other cult documentaries, such as Super Size Me or Sicko, voiceovers and talking heads are absent from Catfish. In fact, it plays out more like a video diary. Appropriate, in an age where Youtube stars are made purely from sharing their lives via ‘vlogging’. The documentation of the relationship is cleverly intertwined with shots of computer screens showing Facebook, emails and Google Maps, cultural touchstones of the internet age. For me, the whole documentary feels very modern and in touch with this generation, and for this reason I believe it touches a particular nerve.
The integral problem with reviewing Catfish is the risk of giving too much away, as it is the twist in the final 30-40 minutes of the film which gives it its real sparkle. However, it is also this twist which has brought a certain amount of controversy to the film, with critics questioning its integrity and realism. Is Catfish a fictional film masquerading as a documentary? The creators have rubbished these claims, insisting that the events portrayed are factual and that they themselves were taken aback by their good fortune of capturing a cohesive narrative. It’s easy to see why people are suspicious; with the realism tactic used all too often in viral marketing, critics are inevitably going to play the fake card. Watching the film, it’s hard not to be confronted by this. As enjoyable as it is, sometimes you can’t help but wonder why the narrative is so perfectly paced and the plotline seemingly too good to be true.
But does it honestly matter if it’s a fake? Whether you take it at face value or not, Catfish will have you hooked. Are Nev, Rev and Henry just excellent actors playing some very involved roles? Personally, I don’t really care. From start to finish, Catfish is an engaging and immersive film and you’ll be hard pressed to find fault with its pacing or the presentation of the narrative. It’s a crying shame that this film isn’t more widely distributed in cinemas here in the UK. Catfish could be seen as the ‘other Facebook film’ of 2010, but, as good as The Social Network is, this documentary accused of being a mockumentary has that extra human touch which sets it apart and marks it as one of 2010’s must-see films.
9 OUT OF 10