Catfish has become a cultural phenomenon, being made famous as a MTV reality TV show. The term itself is now a common expression; meaning a person who pretends to be another person to trick, deceive or manipulate over the internet. It has gotten so big now that it is easy to forget that the whole idea came from a small documentary that featured Catfish: The TV show presenter Nev Schulman, as the “victim” of his own catfish encounter.
Unlike the TV show, in the documentary we have no idea what a catfish is or where the story is going. The trailer was heavily misleading, almost teasing a horror story rather than an intriguing puzzle but there are certainly moments that count as very creepy and almost quite scary. If you can enter the film with a high level of ignorance, as I did when I first watched it, then you will definitely enjoy it much more.
The bigger level of ignorance, the more you’ll enjoy the way in which the movie drip-feeds the story in real-time. This isn’t a tale where the ending or point of the documentary is flagged-up from the beginning. The initial idea is to follow the relationship between Nev and his new love interest Megan, all done purely through the internet and over the phone. This would sound dull for most documentaries but, now for obvious reasons, there is always a slight air of mystery and confusion over Megan and who she really is, what her story may be and how much of her life is fiction.
The movie moves at a fast enough pace that will keep your interest and you will find yourself at the edge of your seat when the crew decide that they are going to surprise Megan in an attempt to discover the truth behind the story that has been weaved. This is arguably the movie at it’s best and most “frightening.” If you watched, as I did, because you were expecting some sort of found footage horror film that was teased from the trailer, there is an added element of dread.
If you are watching because you are a fan of the Catfish TV show or know the basic premise, it is just the unknown person at the end of the line that will begin to make you feel tense. The whole encounter is a bizarre one and you feel like you are witnessing it at the same time as Nev and the crew (mainly because you are).
It plays as a well constructed mystery as you will begin to piece together the elements of Megan’s story and what is actually real. To explain any more would be to ruin the best element of the film but it is worth the wait and the reveal is a satisfying one, even though you won’t necessarily be happy as the credits roll.
On the first watch of this film, I was quite shocked about the revelations and what I felt the point of the documentary was. It really makes you wonder and reflect on how you are interacting on social network. Now that I have watched almost 4 seasons of Catfish: The TV show (it is one of my many guilty pleasure watches) I started to feel a bit deflated with this movie on a second viewing. It doesn’t have the same impact, not because the show is still carrying the same message but because the show has almost become a way of recognising and accepting people who “Catfish” rather than shining a light on people’s obsession with social network and “virtual relationships.”
Taken on it’s own though, Catfish (the movie) is a great documentary.
Overall, Catfish is a movie with no overt message but a carefully constructed mystery. If you are unaware of the Catfish phenomena, then you will get so much more out of the story that the film presents. If you already know it, it is a great call back to the origins of both the phrase and the TV show that has somehow watered-down this movies overall impact and underlying message.
Rating – 4
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