I had no intention of letting a perpetrated hoax slip through my hands again.  The first, as everyone knows by now, is I’m Still Here, the Joaquin Phoenix documentary that was revealed to be completely fake and staged from beginning to end.  I had wanted to see it, mainly to see what actually happened to Phoenix during the year he decided to pursue a rap career.  Instead, when it was let known that it was all staged, I became strangely disappointed.  Seeing it really didn’t matter anymore.

So, when it came to Catfish, and discovering that it was opening up shortly after I’m Still Here, I decided to see it immediately, and to make up my own mind as to whether another documentary is staged, or, in all probability, real.  And, for the first time in forever, I’m writing the review the day of seeing the film (sorry Temple Grandin, your turn will have to wait until after the weekend).

The trailer, after re-watching it, doesn’t reveal much, or rather, misdirects the original direction of the movie.  Nev receives a package from Abby, an eight-year-old girl who likes to paint, and upon seeing a picture Nev took, sends a painting to him (the film was originally about their relationship, of him taking pictures and her painting them).  He engages in correspondence with her, her mother, Angela, and eventually Megan, her half-sister.  It’s with Megan that Nev starts a sort of Facebook/internet pseudo-relationship with, though over time Nev grows suspicious of whom Megan really is.  It’s decided between Nev, his brother Ariel, and their friend Henry (the latter two are film makers) that they make the trip up to Michigan to meet Megan to get things figured out.

And… well, I’m not going to spoil it.  Rather, I’m going to mull over, as cryptically as possible, whether this is a hoax.  A part of me thinks it is, when viewed again from beginning to end, especially when the characters announce the specific date and time during the earlier moments.  Maybe it’s to establish the time frame, or maybe it’s to suggest that they went back to do these scenes after what occurred in the second half of the film.  It could go either way.  Parts of what you see in the trailer suggest that too: the cutting and pasting of Megan’s picture onto Nev’s, the paintings (the large amount of paintings actually) that are sent to Nev’s office, etc.  The second half of the film has some of these moments as well, or at least the idea that this was all staged and presented to the audience.

They’re quite good at being able to pull that off if that’s the case.  Even with the suggestions of the movie being staged, everyone involved doesn’t acted surprisingly alarmed or exaggerate anything.  I would say that’s caused by everyone involved being real people, not actors, and as such, there’s more of a connection being made, knowing that these people aren’t performing on a stage.  We feel for them emotionally like a character, yes, but there’s more involved because we know anything can actually happen to them.  The danger is actually real.

Which is what makes this film awfully disturbing as well.  Even if it’s staged, it’s also sad what occurred.  It’s unsettling at what some people do to make a connection with others; the age of the internet makes things that much easier, but also that much less forgiving.  The film presents something of a cautionary tale: who do we trust?  Who is lying to us?  What are our reasons for doing the things we do?  The internet, and especially Facebook, in general, has made those questions even harder to answer because of the distinct blurring of everything socially and culturally in the world today.  Social contact is a click away, yet do we actually know who we’re contacting?

So, is it a hoax?  I really don’t know, but taking the film for what it is, it’s definitely thought provoking.  We’ll never know who we’re talking to on the other side of the line.


Note: the grade is just a general one, and isn’t meant to reflect the overall quality of the film (if I could, I wouldn’t give it a grade, but that’s the rules I’ve got to deal with).  The film work is competent, the editing is fine, and the presentation works to give us this final product.