Alright, Let’s Talk About Catfish

So at long last I was finally able to locate a theater playing Catfish nearby, and I had the chance to see this movie I’ve heard described as a “must-see” with a twist “so shocking” I’ll piss myself, or something along those lines.

The trailer did get me quite curious, I have to say. You can watch it here, or just listen to me describe it in a sentence or two. It shows a guy who falls in love with a girl he meets on Facebook, but when he goes out to visit her farm in Michigan, things get spooky, and a quote from my other employer,, comes on the screen and informs us that “the final forty minutes of the film, will take you on an emotional rollercoaster ride you won’t be able to shake for days.”

Is that hyperbole? If not, this really should be something to behold, and its tagline of “not inspired by true events, just true” implies it’s trying to be like a Paranormal Activity found footage type deal. Right?

Our dearly departed Madison reviewed the film as best he could, but as any good reviewer should, he tried not to spoil the twist, but in this case that’s the ENTIRE movie. Today, for those of you who HAVE seen the film, or don’t care to have it ruined, I want to discuss the “shocking” ending and the validity of the claims those behind the film have made since its release.

The big twist of Catfish is that it’s not a horror movie. Not at all. The first two thirds of the film are photographer Nev being filmed by his brother and his business partner as he befriends a family via the internet. He starts out becoming friendly with a little girl (in an innocent fashion) who has sent him a rather good painting of one of his photos, and starts to send him more. He eventually starts talking to her mom, and her sister, whom he ultimately “falls in love with” via text and phone and IM conversations.

But things start to get wonky when he realizes that these people aren’t who they say they are. They’re sending him songs they claim to have recorded that have clearly been ripped off tracks on the internet, they’re saying the girls’ art is being shown at a gallery that doesn’t exist. Something is up, and therefore what’s the logical thing to do? Drive to Michigan and confront them unexpectedly in person of course.

I was crapping my pants right about now.

The part shown in the trailer of them skulking around the sister’s alleged farm is one of the most tense scenes I’ve seen in a film in recent memory. You’re just waiting for everyone onscreen to get slaughtered, something that’s heavily implied from the trailer. But that moment never comes. The farm is empty, and the trio moves on to the family’s house in a town in the Upper Peninsula.

Who they meet is a family very different from the one they’ve seen on Facebook. No one looks like their picture, save the little girl, and for a few minutes, you’ll still be waiting for everyone to get chopped up by a meat cleaver when once these crazy people snap, but slowly it becomes clear that’s not going to happen.

Instead the film twists itself into a heartwrenching drama about a woman tasked with raising two retarded children (in addition to the artist daughter, who is not an artist at all). Her only outlet is to create a number of fake Facebook profiles, and construct an elaborate web of lies to live a fantasy life seducing Nev and sending him her own paintings, which look pretty rudimentary when you realize they’re done by a fifty year old and not a child.

Eventually they coax the truth out of her, that she doesn’t have a hot daughter, and all the pictures she’s used have been stolen from other places and people she doesn’t know. It’s a cautionary tale about the age of the internet and people not being who they say they are. But rather than everyone dying, we just find a sad story of escapism, and it truly is an emotional film you can’t shake for days. That part of the description is correct.

But after the credits roll, and you research the film a bit more, the second twist comes. This is supposed to be a TRUE STORY?

They’ve made a good film, but a true one?

Yes, Nev and his two cohorts maintain that this is a legitimate documentary, that they just happened to stumble upon to a real life story with a more compelling plot than any fictional film that’s been released this year.

I’ve seen a number of interviews with him, and in some cases, he gets overly upset defending the validity of the film. They maintain it to be 100% true, and that’s where I’m starting to call bullshit. At least half bullshit.

It’s clear this is not a movie made up of actors who have all signed some sort of NDA where they won’t tell people it’s a hoax. I do think the entire scenario happened, but I think the filmmakers are lying about what they knew and when, to give the movie more drama and make it seem like well, a movie.

There’s just a little too much smirking going on the whole time. I kept thinking to myself, “this is a cool concept, but it’s obvious they’re amateurs because they’re not very good actors.” And then to find out these were supposed to be “genuine” reactions? No way. They smile when they’re supposed to be weirded out, and their decision to simply approach an empty farm in the middle of nowhere at 2AM owned by people they know to be compulsively lying to them is a decision that no sane person would make. In interviews, Nev maintains that he was scared for his life at the moment, something again he can barely say without grinning. He also says in interviews he was in love with the imaginary Megan Faccio, something he didn’t even admit to in the film. It’s obvious he’s playing it all up for the cameras.

Who would seriously do this?

So what did happen then? I have a hunch that the movie really picked up when they discovered these people were not who they said they were. Then they started really filming, and possibly even recreated some of the old scenes they missed for backstory. I believe then, in a part not shown in the film, they did some elaborate Googling to find out just who and what they were dealing with, and then the rest of the film they know what they’re walking into. They know that the farm isn’t full of lunatic killers. They know the sad story they’re going to find in a small town in Michigan. But they pretend like they don’t because it makes for a better movie.

It’s just not plausible for it to have worked out perfectly the way they said it did, and it’s obvious from the way they act in the movie, they’re not as scared and in the dark as they claim to be. It’s rather annoying that the filmmakers are trying desperately to stick to their story, when it honestly wouldn’t diminish the film they’ve made if they just admitted the truth. And watching Nev lie through his teeth to Brooke Baldwin on CNN alters my view of the film and the character of those in it. If you want to fashion a high drama film around an admittedly strange real life scenario, fine, but at least admit that’s what you did.

But details aside, the facts remain true that a woman did create this virtual life for herself and created a plot twist that made  film jump genres in a way I didn’t know was possible. Those coming in expecting to see a bunch of New York 20-somethings murdered by backwoods Michigan hicks might be disappointed, and that’s why I don’t think Catfish will be able to secure wide release, as I can imagine Average Joe Moviegoer asking for his money back afterward. But the dramatic shift in tone to that degree is something I’ve never experienced in a movie before, and Catfish succeeds by being far different than anything its come before it.

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  1. I absolutely loved this movie. It made my skin crawl whereas no “scary” movie can do that. Also, the only time I noticed anything weird in my initial viewing was when the where driving to those people’s house and the shot was of their car driving from the outside view…. It didn’t make sense to me that a doc crew could do that.

  2. i read on another website that the lady who was suppossed to be this crazy lady making stuff up is actually an artist herself and has had work published, so possible everyone was acting. so i agree that it is complete bullshit, however doesnt mean the whole movie sucks.

  3. I’m sure the producers want people to watch this “documentary” and determine its authenticity on their own … and then (without revealing the “spoiler”) tell their friends/family to watch the movie and make the decision for themselves … and then tell more friends/family to watch …

    How are people falling for this?

  4. If anything, this is a clear reminder of the observer effect.

    I agree that this particular film comes off as contrived. Just remember that even a cell phone video or war-time photograph is, somehow, unreal.

    Also, EVERYONE (except the disabled boys), in this movie is an attention whore. And that is obvious regardless of the “veracity” of the effort.

  5. I saw the trailers and it caught my interest for about a second, then I just happened to come across the story on Dateline and I was captivated. I had no idea what I was watching but all I knew was that I just had to find out what it was. It is a compelling story but all movies can be made or broken just by the editing. It is just a great editing job, that is all. They do suspend belief long enough just to get you hooked but your mind does put the real story together and you see it just as the guys living it had. These are three educated guys we are talking about. Suspicions do arise even if you are “in love” when something doesn’t seem quite right. Even if you are too blind to see these warning signs, you have two friends that aren’t so blinded. It is an entertaining movie and it is a good thrill ride but this is not the story in its entirety.

  6. My (cynical) boyfriend and I disagree with your facial readings of Nev and the crew. Nev seems smirky because he’s one of those twenty-somethings who nervously grins when stressed. You think they couldn’t have managed shots of their car out on a rural road by setting up the serious camera on, um, a tripod?

    As far as “their decision to simply approach an empty farm in the middle of nowhere at 2AM owned by people they know to be compulsively lying to them [being] a decision that no sane person would make”, that is effing bullcrap. 20-something guys make decisions riskier than that *all the time*! for less potential reward! Maybe they just weren’t as deeply into horror movies as you – I don’t much watch ’em. Two am is a good time to approach any rural place except habitats of speed freaks or attack guard dogs, because, um, everyone would be asleep. If they actually lived there.

    Anyway, intelligent minds can differ. Whether its documentary footage is pure or not, definitely the most surprising thing I’ve seen since The Crying Game. I don’t know if it will exactly “haunt” me this week, but the actual emotional interactions on camera in core scenes have a seriously tender human quality; like the tip of an iceberg they hint at the further untold story, of how things came to be that way. Brilliant.

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