Now that “The Social Network” has explored the origins of Facebook, this ‘reality’documentary of online intrigue examines one of its more bizarre encounters.
Back in 2007, aspiring video directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost became intrigued when Schulman’s younger, twentysomething brother Yaniv, called Neev, a New York City photographer, was contacted about a precocious eight year-old Michigan girl named Abby who so admired a striking dance photo he’d just published in the New York Sun that she created a painting of it. When the package containing the oil painting arrives, it’s quite remarkable. Could Nev have discovered an artistic prodigy? Cue Ariel and Henry to start their cameras rolling.
Nev phones Abby’s mother, Angela, and eventually winds up in a steamy cyberspace text and phone flirtation with Abby’s blonde, 19 year-old half-sister, Megan. But when curious Ariel and Henry, along with guileless, gullible Nev, take off for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, guided by Google Maps and a GPS, what they find is not what they expected. Or maybe it is, since suspicious evidence already points to Megan not being who she claims to be. Let’s just say that the theme revolves around trust and the
cautionary message that the electronic anonymity of social networking can mask any number of things.
Without giving away ‘spoilers,’ it must be acknowledged that this glib cinematic experience, while twisting the poignant truth, pushes the envelope on the basic, ethical definition of a documentary, particularly when you’re told the perceptive metaphor that give the movie its title. So with its jittery, handheld camera-work, this murky, mysterious concept is beyond devious, blurring the line between fact and fiction, bordering on exploitation of identity and regret. You have to wonder: did everything depicted in the film happen exactly the way Neev, Ariel and Henry said it did, or has some of it been
scripted, reenacted and edited into an elaborate hoax?
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Catfish” reels you in with a suspenseful if superficial 6 – and it will probably hook you, just like “The Blair Witch Project.”