2010, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
Since the film's auspicious debut a couple years ago Catfish has permeated the public consciousness in a way few films do, in such a regard that far more people know about the film than have actually seen it, also in such a regard that knowing what the film is about seems to diminish greatly the necessity of seeing it. "Catfish" is used as a metaphor in the film (as one interviewee states, a catfish is used is the tank hold on cod fishing ships to chase the cod and keep them vital and fresh) but in real life, because of the film (and the MTV series it spawned), catfish has become both a verb and a noun, both relating to false identities on the internet (the verb catfished meaning being fooled by the noun catfish meaning the person adopting the false ID).
The film is at once a love story, a suspense mystery, a human drama. a little bit of horror (curiously enough) and possibly a bit of subterfuge. It involves two filmmaking partners turning their camera on Nev, one of the filmmaker's photographer brother, as he begins an on-line correspondance with a young artistic prodigy. This leads to Nev interacting with the girl's family extensively, soon developing a crush aw ultimately a long-distance relationship with the girl's older sister.
But things start to look suspicious when an innocent YouTube search turns up the first sign of deceit. The more Nev and the filmmakers probe his online friends' claims the more he invalidates their authenticity. Rather than fully disconnect Nev and friends decide to confront, though without malice, the perpetrator(s) of the hoax he's now certain he's a victim of.
What builds suggests an intense 3rd act to come, horror and danger lie around the corner. It is a clever bit of filmmaking, constructing real world elements into cinematic tropes as to emulate conventional fiction storytelling. However where the 3rd act would normally be loaded with action and conflict what instead Catfish provides is a potent dose of sympathy and pathos as the perpetrators lies shield a difficult life, and present an escape from an everpresent, crushing reality.
Catfish is an incredible experience if not altogether believable. Oh for sure Nev was being fooled but the act of discovering the fraud seemed staged (or reenacted) rather than fully authentic of-the-moment reactions. As well I have my suspicions that the filmmakers weren't already somewhat wise to what was really going on before they put it to film. Even still, the storytelling craft is remarkable (is this real or a mookumentary I asked myself constantly during the first two acts) and and the final act is an engrossing and surprisingly compassionate exploration of motivations.