The Tagline for Catfish: Don’t Let Anyone Tell You What It Is
The marketing campaign for Catfish has done a brilliant job of piquing interest in an unknown commodity. What is Catfish, a documentary, a mockumentary, a prankumentary? Is this so-called “real facebook movie” a cautionary tale of online encounters? And where does the catfish enter the equation? No wonder J.J. Abrams is mentioned in the end credits, his TED talk about the importance of the unopened mystery box is precisely the allure of Catfish.
Without delving into spoilers, Catfish is a story about an online romance that very quickly becomes something more than it seems on the surface. Like Capturing the Friedmans, it is a documentary that appears to evolve by accident, starting with a subject rather benign and ending with something profoundly unnerving (curiously, Friedmans’ director Andrew Jarecki has a producer credit for Catfish). Documentary audiences have grown instinctively skeptical in lieu of the run of fictionalized documentaries as of late; I too came at this film with the expectations of being had. What I did not expect was how convincing it all is, and regardless of its actual authenticity (the online debate rages forth) the Turing test of believing it to be true is enough to make my skin crawl.
In what has already been a stellar year for documentary films, Catfish stands out as an original piece. Foregoing the trend of issue-heavy narratives it captures something primal and tragic about human nature. At times tense, sad and even a little creepy, the film runs the gamut of emotions while weighing heavy on the mind long after the film had stopped. The filmmakers flirt perilously with exploitation, and as a paying voyeur I felt that moral quandary resting on my shoulders as well. For those who like their documentaries on the Werner Herzog end of the spectrum, Catfish is a sublime treat.
Best documentary of the year: what else do you need to know? Let the spoiler discussion in the comment section begin!
***For my in-depth spoiler speculation on the authenticity of the documentary, check my other post***: