It’s a hopeless period for films of the less-said-the-better ilk, but the new documentary Catfish hangs on this ledge more precariously than most. Acutely aware that reviews built on nothing but vagueness and generalities make for incredibly tedious reading, I will keep it brief. The short message: go and see it, preferably before some blabbermouth spoils it.
The thumbnail synopsis is that it’s the record of a slowly blossoming internet relationship-come-romance between a young New York photographer Nev, and Megan the half-sister of an 8 year old painting prodigy that’s taken to painting Nev’s work and sending it to him. Egged on by brother and friends, a trio set off to finally unite Nev and Megan ‘in real life’. When they finally get to rural Michigan ‘all is not as it seems’ and shit gets very ‘real’.
Beyond the contrivance and thriller cliché of the film’s blurb, the film builds towards its grand reveal, the volte face, the upending of everything by almost convincing you of its predictability. The endless narcissism of the project and its filmmakers gives the whole thing a decidedly questionable whiff of the Blair Witch Project, and the rather earnest and self-involved inflection of the oh-we’re-not-fauxumentary. And then the almighty SNAP comes, and you’re just left struggling to hold onto what the hell is going on. It’s frankly terrifying, and quite brilliant for just that.This is far from the first documentary this year to have foyer-critics hemming and herring over ‘what is REAL, really, in the greater scheme of things?’ But film philosophy undergraduatese aside, it delights me that in a connected dispute over music rights, the filmmakers might be forced to swear on oath to the veracity of the film. On oath! The TRUTH will finally come out! Or maybe we could just enjoy the film for the tangled and baffling mess that it is?
Five out of Five
Catfish is showing at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield from the 17th of December 2010.