How does one go about writing a review for the movie you aren’t supposed to know anything about going in? I’ll admit to being a little perplexed about this. I want you to read what I have to say, but I also want you to enjoy Catfish as much as I did. So consider this before going any further. This review is meant for those who have seen the film and/or those who already know how it unfolds. I won’t go and spoil the entire film, but if you’re like me and want to go in totally fresh, I suggest you stop reading here.

Now that I got that out of the way, I’ll say that Catfish is probably the most surprising film of the year, but it’s surprising in a strangely ironic way. I’ll admit that the only reason I saw Catfish is that the marketing totally hooked me. I knew nothing about it until mid-September, but the incredibly unique and totally creepy trailer pushed it to near the top of my must-see list. What’s surprising about Catfish is that it’s almost nothing like the trailer and the television spots made it seem. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of anonymity on the Internet, but it’s not a horror film or a dark thriller at all. After the intriguing setup, it evolves into a quiet cat-and-mouse game between two individuals who don’t know how much the other knows about them. And the “shocking final 45 minutes that have to be seen to be believed?” They’re nothing more than a depiction of a sad, lonely woman who has too much time on her hands. I could see many being really disappointed by this. I found it fascinating and surprisingly tender. And the way Catfish is filmed, using cinematic techniques that are totally unique to the digital age, elevates the material greatly.

The film tells the supposedly true story of Nev Schulman, a New York City-based photographer who strikes up a virtual relationship with Megan Faccio, an aspiring musician from rural Michigan. The two “meet” through Megan’s half-sister, Abby, a gifted young painter who recreates many of Nev’s photographs. Angela, Abby’s mother, also talks regularly with Nev, and the more they talk, the more Nev wants to meet them, especially Megan, whom he has genuine feelings for, despite never meeting face-to-face. But when Nev, along with his brother Ariel and friend Henry (the film’s directors), discovers that many of the recordings Megan has sent him are not actually her work, he grows suspicious. What else about this family is untrue? So the three young men travel out for a surprise visit to Ishpeming, Michigan, for a surprise visit, completely unsure what or who will be there to meet them.

What happens in this story isn’t shocking or unpredictable. Rather, it’s the emotions involved that are surprising. Obviously, Nev is being tricked to a certain degree, but when everything is brought out into the open, he doesn’t react with anger or retaliation, but rather he listens and hears the reasoning behind what happened. Ultimately, one could almost see why things happened the way they did, though I don’t think any sound person would take it as far as it’s taken here.

What’s really cool about Catfish, however, is the way the filmmakers utilize the technology they ultimately caution against to move their film along and give it a one-of-a-kind feel. When Nev, Ariel, and Henry travel somewhere, the film uses Google Earth as a transition, while much of the introduction to the story is done exclusively through Facebook. No film could have been made this way ten years ago, which makes the film incredibly modern. It’s clearly made on a budget, but the creativity of the directors allows them to make this a vivid, visually memorable film.

I wish I could get more in depth into what goes on in Catfish (at the very least, I’d be able to clean up some of the painfully vague verbiage used in the first few paragraphs of this review), but it’s also worth discussing on a number of levels. How much of this “documentary” is true? What about the new and unique way it’s filmed? And how much can marketing make or break one’s movie-going experience? There are the questions Catfish makes you consider, while also telling a nifty little story that tugs a little on your emotions. It’s certainly one of the most unique films I’ve seen this year, and while not everyone is going to love it the way I did, I think that distinctiveness should make it required viewing for any serious film fan.

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