Director: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Starring: Yaniv Schulman and Angela Pierce
Runtime: 87 mins
Catfish is a movie which, released off the back of The Social Network, shows us a side of the social networking phenomenon ‘Facebook’ that we don’t often tend to think about. Catfish, however, unlike The Social Network, is a documentary, and an unsettling one at that.
The documentary follows New York based photographer Yaniv Schulman and focuses on his interaction with a family based in Michigan over Facebook. Initially Yaniv develops an online relationship with eight year old child prodigy Abby, after she begins to send him an impressive array of paintings based on his published photographs. The two are shown to exchange Facebook messages, and begin to develop a close relationship.
Gradually Yaniv befriends the girl’s entire family, chatting not only to Abby, but to the mother of the family Angela regularly. Yaniv is more taken, however by Abby’s older sister Megan, who he is also introduced to over Facebook. Yaniv and Megan hit it off, their Facebook chats evolve into more and more regular phonecalls and it is not long before they are essentially in a relationship with each other, without having ever met in person.
Upon requesting that they meet, Megan is distinctly evasive, and Yaniv, along with his two workmates Henry and Ariel (also the directors of the documentary) begin to notice inconsistencies in her behaviour. After doing a little research the trio begin to realise that something strange is going on, things don’t seem to fit into place. Yaniv’s workmates persuade him into road-tripping up to Michigan, to essentially crash Megan’s house, under the impression that Abby, Megan, and their mother Angela, just aren’t who they say they are. This is the point at which things really get interesting.
To elaborate further would be to ruin the crux of a film whose denouement seals its shining reputation among a number of critics. Where many documentaries tend to be fragmented, plainly informative and characterised by an overbearing narration, Catfish, is simply a ‘home movie’, which hones in on Yaniv and his personal experience. The viewer sees things as they happen, which can at times make the movie seem more like a typical fictional film rather than a documentary. It is a style which allows the viewer to develop a strikingly strong bond with Yaniv, and which makes the film’s climax all the more astounding. This deep sense of involvement in the plot will have you giggling along with the trio of characters, and finding yourself filled with a profound feeling of wonder, expectation, and dare I say it, awe, as the enigma of the ‘Facebook family’ unravels itself.
What is so refreshing about Catfish is that it is a documentary which doesn’t have a set agenda. It is filmed candidly, and with a sense of abandon which makes it seem brutally honest and incredibly human. Whilst Catfish may not have a set agenda, do not be mistaken, it certainly has a message to impart, and an important and disturbing one at that. It is a message which will make users of Facebook think twice about reaching out to others not known in the flesh, and will stick with viewers for days and days. Although disturbing and unsettling at times Catfish is the first movie I have seen in a long time which simultaneously offers so much humour and also so much suspense, and considering both its style and content, this is surely a triumph.