I originally thought this was supposed to be a horror film. Iʻll even venture so far as to say that this film almost seemed to be a thriller. That wasnʻt the case at all, as I began piecing scenes together and uncovering the strange underbelly of the Internet, along with Nev, Rel, and Henry.
The film consists of a cast of three: Yaniv Schulman (“Nev”); Ariel Schulman (“Rel”); and Henry Joost (“Henry”). Rel and Henry are filmmakers, while Nev is a photographer within the NYC ballet community. In the early stages of the film, Nev narrates how he came across a young artist named Abby who had a talent for painting from photographs. He found a way to contact her via Facebook, and thus began their friendship. As the relationship grew, Abby began sending Nev paintings that she did of various people she saw in her life, in newspapers, even going so far as to paint a replica of Nevʻs default profile picture on Facebook.
As Nevʻs interest into her family life grew, he began to keep in contact with her mother, Angela; her older sister Megan; and at times, Vince, Angelaʻs husband. While interacting via Facebook with Megan, Nev grew interested in her; they would spend hours on the phone conversing or texting as feelings grew more intense between the two. When the opportunity arose for the three friends to trek to Colorado for a film project, Nev came up with the idea to stop by Michigan on the way to visit Megan and Abby. While stopping in Michigan for a short stay in a nearby town, he is up late one night exchanging instant messages with Megan. Giddy over her singing abilities, he asks her to sing him a song. After listening to it, he becomes curious and decides to search for that particular song. As result listings reveal she is not the original singer (as she had previously claimed to be), Nev took matters into his own hands by looking for a video that may exist of the real singer of this “original” piece.
Nev finds the video and plays it, revealing that the actual singer is not Megan nor did she sing the song in her house as claimed. Rel and Henry persuade Nev to question Meganʻs actions, and she is beside herself trying to come up with a logical explanation. The duo convince Nev that this is a situation worth digging deeper into, and they map out a plan to go to Meganʻs house to find out if she actually exists. After too many hours driving, the crew ascend onto Meganʻs mailbox which is situated on a road which leads to her barn. Mail sits in the box which was addressed from Nev and stamped “return to sender for appropriate address”. Upon arrival to Meganʻs barn, the trio discover that no one resides there at all. They quickly come up with a plan to drop by unannounced at Abbyʻs house to find out if she, too, actually exists.
The next day brings a surprise to Angela, who arrives at the door (after repeated shouts and seemingly endless knocking) to find Nev, Henry, and Rel waiting for her. After a day of conversations and a slightly uneasy drive to the beach house where Abby is enjoying her stay with a friend, Nev begins to realize that he was right in his hunch that nothing adds up in his understanding of Abby or his [non-]discovery of Megan. When Henry and Rel discuss with Nev that there is no Megan and Abby is clearly not the painter Angela made her out to be, Nev is left disappointed and confused. At first they taunt him with claims that Angela is in love with him, which is why she made up all the elaborate characters that drew him to her. Without facts to back those claims up, they decide to go back the next day so he can begin to piece things together.
Nev decides to talk with Angela, and she reveals that she made the characters up. The rest of the film dissects her elaborate tales for the numerous (15!) characters, how she hid the lies from her husband Vince, and why she did it all. Itʻs clear that she is delusional, yet her ability to paint drew the artist within Nev to initially explore the life of a little girl he saw in a newspaper only eight months prior. As her lies see the light, he is finally able to piece everything together and realize that this was a woman who had a serious problem.
This film has some downsides which include only a brief introduction into the life of Vince. Though he didnʻt play a large role in the film, his side of the story was only briefly touched on despite his large role in the family as Angelaʻs husband. That may have been from his complete exclusion from her elaborate scheme which derived from absolute desperation. I would have liked to see more of what the other characters thought as well. Clearly Rel and Henry were beside themselves with laughter and curiosity into the life of a woman longing to live vicariously through Nev, who had accomplished everything she had always wanted for herself. Abby was confused upon her first meeting with Nev, which could have been interesting had they explored that further aside from the small discussion he had after the fact.
The film does an excellent job of building up expectations and fulfilling every one of them. I feel satisfied that they clearly defined all points throughout the film, while holding onto the thrill of the reveal. The biggest surprise in this film is that all events that occurred were real. It delves into an intricate discussion of the manipulation of those on the Internet and what that can mean for real life people on the other side. I find Catfish to be an excellent look into the seemingly dangerous pitfalls social networking sites such as Facebook can hold. Though the crew did not end up in danger themselves, it is a very real possibility for others who arenʻt careful. The film also does a great job of revealing how personal information can be used in the evolution of identity theft and what that can mean for people who fall into the manipulative trap of delusional (or non-delusional) folks.
I highly recommend this film, if you havenʻt already seen it. It is currently available on Netflix, as well as your local video rental store.
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