Starring: Megan Faccio, Melody C Roscher, Yaniv Schulman, Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Distributor: Hopscotch Films
Runtime: 87 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
The internet is becoming more and more an extension of the mind: a mirror reflecting the way we think, feel and imagine. Facebook and other social media such as Twitter have become the means by which people of all ages, through the click of a mouse, can connect with myriad ‘friends’ online, or live vicarious lives.
What happens when this ‘virtual’ world collides with reality is the subject of Catfish, a fascinating video-verite documentary which, if it was not a true story, could be viewed simply as an implausible but clever scam in much the same mould as The Blair Witch Project.
Catfish begins with 24 year-old New York photographer Yaniv (‘Nev’) Schulman, being contacted on Facebook by Abbey, an 8 year-old girl from Michigan, who asks Nev for permission to paint his portrait from one of the several photos posted on his Profile page.
Nev is astonished at the little girl’s proficiency, and begins an online friendship with Abby that soon extends to the precocious child’s family, specifically her mother Angela Wesselman, and half-sister Megan.
Nev is particularly captivated by Megan, with whom he begins an online romance, and as the months progress, through his growing regard for Abbey’s paintings, and his sexually charged Facebook relationship with Megan who is provocatively beautiful, Nev is in almost constant online and phone contact with the three women, whose lives, although busy, are similarly dominated by discourse with him.
When Megan sends Nev some songs she has written, the young New Yorker with his brother Ariel (‘Rel’) and friend Henry Joost set out on a road trip to meet Megan and her family, and settle once and for all, gnawing doubts that all is not what it seems.
In some respects, Catfish is an exercise in egocentric solipsism, a 24/7 snap shot of the fishbowl existence lived by millions of Facebook aficionadas and addicts around the world.
As young, experimental filmmakers with several award winning commercials and documentaries to their credit, Rel and Henry set out to chronicle the virtual adventures of Nev, their handsome brother and friend, who as time progresses becomes obsessively involved with Megan and her family, whom he spends countless hours ‘relating’ with both online and by phone.
What transpires, and how Nev is affected when this virtual world is punctured by reality, makes for compulsive and salutary viewing.
There are moments in Catfish when under constant scrutiny Nev’s obsession with self comes across as self-indulgent and grating, simply another instance of individualism triumphant on the net as it is elsewhere in the world.
However, given the ubiquity of reality television and cheap access to video cameras, it should come as no surprise that young people and aspiring filmmakers, as a means of recording events and thoughts for posterity and fame, should turn to camcorders and the like in much the same way as people in the past (Pepys, for instance) turned to paper and pen.
Above all, what redeems Catfish is that as the trio head impulsively to Michigan, the documentary swerves radically off-course into something far more empathetic and human, albeit disturbing and sad. As to how Catfish acquired its name, viewers will need to listen carefully, use a dictionary, and wonder at the power of metaphor.
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