There is one thing with film that other mediums don’t quite have and that is the intimacy of certain films, especially documentaries. Until the past few years we accepted that a documentary was reality and while we may also accept that some of the moments in the film may be accentuated through editing or sound design, essentially you are supposed to be watching a work of non-fiction. Things have changed though with films like The Blair Witch Project and the films of Michael Moore and reality has become very loose and documentaries have become very exaggerated. Oh, the truth is still in there but it can change with the filmmaker and their views and with films like Blair Witch the form of the documentary has become another way to convey a fictitious tale. Such is the tale of Catfish a movie set out and meant to be a documentary but which seems so sensationalistic that it stretches its credibility.
Catfish is the story of a New York photographer who starts up a long distant friendship with a young girl who recreated a photo of his in a painting. He is so charmed by her paintings and her spirit that she becomes a regular part of his life via her letters and art. The friendship deepens when the girl’s mother and sister add him as friends on the website Facebook and he starts to get close to all of them. Capturing all of this on film is Nev’s brother and friend, who are so fascinated by this story of unsusual friendship that they decide to make a documentary about it. The family lives in Michigan so things never progress past calls, emails, and the occasional package but the photographer starts to get close to the little girl’s older sister, a beautiful young woman who models, dances, and is a musician. As crazy as it seems, he is falling in love with her despite the miles between them. Nev, the photographer, begins to get suspicious though when he realizes the music the older sister is sending him and taking credit for is all music from little known recording artists. Suddenly angry that he as been lied to, he and his brother and friend decide it is time to really discover how real his friendships are and how much is sheer fabrication. And it is the quest for the truth and the answers that lie at the heart of this friendship that make up the mystery of this film, and is something that should be seen to be believed.
And believabilty is definitely the biggest issue with this film. Taken as a movie, it is fascinating. It is the truth of the film that stretches your patience. If you accept it as a fiction it is fascinating, and while the twists are not as scary as I may have hoped (seriously, the hype here was a bit out of control) the movie is good. It is just that, really, who can honestly take this as fact. It is too convenient that the camera is always present to capture things, and that Nev is always willing to allow himself to be manipulated into continuing on with things. There are just too many questions, too much asked of the audience that to take it as fact is asking too much. As a fiction though it is compelling, chilling, and to varying degrees heartbreaking. But the audience will be divided between those that love and those that hate the film. And then there are the oddballs like me.
I like the movie, to be sure. I think it is fascinating, is scary at times, and is utterly watchable, but where the movie is heading and where you end up isn’t exactly what I hoped for. I had built the film up so much over the course of hearing about it that I really, really wanted it to be more than it is. And that isn’t fair of me to punish it for not being what I wanted it to be but the facts is the facts, and the fact is that it plays better as fiction than fact, and if it is fiction, it needed more fiction to be compelling. It is very well made, has a gripping story to tell, is ably filmed, and you will be hard pressed to not want to know how it ends. It has its issues, to be sure, but it is a conversation starter and another film worth the analysis.
It isn’t great, but it is a solid movie and whether you believe it or not, it is worth a look. Just go in knowing that things, in the film, and about the film, are not always what they seem.
7 out of 10