There was a lot of mystery surrounding this film, for me. I had been told to avoid absolutely anything about it and so I did. I read no reviews, saw no posters. Going into a film pretty much stone-cold is something of a novelty for me nowadays: I am a consumer of vast sums of interweb film news and reviews. I'm glad I managed to do it. So, for those of who are wanting to see Catfish, I would recommend reading no further.
Still here? Ok then. What Catfish is then, is a documentary about, well, the modern digital age. It takes that form in the story of Nev, a young professional photographer living in New York city. His brother, Rel, and friend, Henry, are film-makers who share an office with him. They're all charming, funny, intelligent and creative guys and the film would've been a different experience entirely if, say, Nev was some sort of arrogant douchebag. But he's not, and one day Nev receives a package in the mail: a painting of one of his photos by Abby, an 8 year old girl from Michigan. Nev and Abby begin communicating, first with mail and e-mail and then with, as is the norm nowadays, facebook. Through facebook Nev connects with Abby's wider family such as her mum (looking very very good for her age) and, in particular, her sister Megan. Nev and Megan begin getting, well, pretty hot and heavy with Rel and Henry documenting the growing virtual relationship. Nev feels a real connection with Megan and feels like he really knows this person; through constant text messages, through talking to her on the phone, corresponding on facebook with her and her friends, and listening to her music... for a number of months. Except, as Summer Movie Trailer Voice Over Guy might say, all is not what it seems...
The boys begin to grow increasingly suspicious of Megan and the wider family. It's something that begins small enough and then they decide to take a surprise road-trip to Michigan to visit Abby, Megan and the rest of the family. That's when the whole sorry story unravels, though not in any way that you might expect. I'm hesitant to actually spill the beans on what happens when the boys meet the family here, even for those that have seen it. I feel like this is a documentary (and there has been ample discussion/argument across the 'net as to it's veracity) that should be discovered by more people here before I go spoililng things. Suffice to say, what happens is entirely unexpected, awkward and heart-breakingly uneasy. And it's all captured by Rel and Henry, even as they find themselves involved in the unfolding events.
Catfish is marvelous as a reminder of the perils and joys of the digital age. Though Nev and the boys were fooled through digital means, they were also able to uncover the deceit with the use of digital tools. The digital landscape and it's impact is made explicit in subtle touches, such as the use of Google Earth and Google Maps to illustrate distance and travel and the contsant use of various web applications. This would make an excellent double-bill with either The Social Network (the creation of facebook and it's aftermath) or Exit Through the Gift Shop (is it real? Is it too weird not to be true?).