21 December 2010

CATFISH- Review

Yes, now more than ever, this review will be SPOILER FREE, so have no fear. Then again, it begs the question of why you'd be looking at a review of Catfish if you don't want to know anything about it.

If "the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never directed" sounds like a ridiculous label to attach to Catfish, then you'd be right. Not because it's a bad film, but because it doesn't resemble a Hitchcock film in the slightest. It's essentially the second Facebook film of 2010, after The Social Network. Some think it's an actual documentary, some think it's fake, and people on both sides like or dislike it- some dislike and distrust it so much that they're suing the filmmakers for using their music without paying for clearance.

Basically, it's purported that filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost started shooting Ariel's brother Nev's online relationship on camera after realising there could well be a story in it. Nev's a photographer who is in contact with a creative family, and he's grown particularly close to Megan, a young woman with whom he strikes up a romance on Facebook. Inconsistencies begin to appear with the whole Facebook family, and so the trio decide to travel across country to peek behind the veil.

You'll likely spend more time figuring out exactly what Catfish is than you will actually watching it. It's a film that is meant to confound expectations, even if it's not doing so in exactly the way it's intended to. For instance, Messrs Schulmans and Joost all insist it's a real story, and yet one of the trailers for the film, in a parody of The Social Network, says it's not based on true events.

Looking at the film itself, it could go either way. In the year that we saw I'm Still Here, this could easily enough have been constructed in the same way. Or by the same token, it can be seen that there's only as much mediation and construction of reality here as in other documentaries. The documentary form is not about directly transferring the real onto the screen in its entirety, but about representing the real.

For me at least, the debate over Catfish eventually boils down quite simply. If it's fake, it's a very well constructed mockumentary that shows the ongoing impact of social networking in our generation and in others. If it's real, then there's a tremendous lack of sensitivity on the filmmakers' part in presenting this film as it is, typified by the really quite obnoxious Nev Schulman in the Q&A sessions he's been doing to publicise the film. I now think it's real, but what the debate boils down to is whether or not you're OK with the filmmakers' lack of tact, and a week after watching it, I'm still not certain that I am.

That's the salient and spoiler-free point about the film, so it remains to reiterate that it is compulsively watchable, even with such an dislikeable protagonist as Nev Schulman. His own weirdness and creepiness seems to be forgotten by both the directors and by the audience once we get to the twist in the tale, upon which the appeal of this film hinges.

It's not a Hitchcock twist, and I'm not sure why Hitchcock's name was thrown into the mix except for the sake of a good quote in the trailer or on the poster. What it does have going for it is that up until the twist happens, it could literally go off in any direction. I was halfway primed for it to suddenly turn into a zombie movie before we actually found out the truth.

Up to a point, Catfish is served well by its equivocality. I might not agree that it's like a Hitchcock film, except for the marketing ploys that discourage you from seeking out spoilers beforehand, a la Psycho- you should absolutely avoid talking about the film until after you've seen it. It transforms into troubling and yet highly sympathetic viewing for the last half an hour or so. If The Social Network was the cause, this film is the effect. Some have cast a judgemental eye upon the Facebook family who Nev got in touch with, and it's reactions like this that make it a difficult film to like. It's down to you to make your own mind up about it- I can only say that despite my quibbles, it's an essential viewing experience.

Catfish is now playing in select cinemas nationwide.
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I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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