DVD Review: Catfish


Dir. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost

In the background, behind the Word document window where I’m typing this review, I have open an internet relay chat client, a web forum, Facebook, and Gmail. The latter two have real-time chat functions, and I’m currently using them. Meanwhile, on my desk, my cell phone’s light is blinking to let me know I have new messages. The ways we’re connected to people now are intricate, varied, and strange. Few movies understand this better than Catfish.

The marketing for Catfish’s DVD release is the same as its theatrical run. While I can respect that they were trying to keep the movie mysterious, I’m not sure they chose great methods. The documentary follows Nev Schulman, a New York-based photographer in his mid-20s, as he falls in love with a woman he mainly knows from Facebook and phone conversations. Then things get weird, and he and his two working partners – his brother Ariel and their friend Henry Joost –  take a trip to find her.

That’s all you can really learn from the trailers and the back of the box, and that’s about what you should learn about the movie before going in. But while the trailers make it seem like something with terrifying life-or-death stakes, it’s not. It is suspenseful and occasionally tense enough that you have to measure your breathing. Yet it isn’t a thriller at heart. Instead, like most good documentaries, Catfish has an unusual and compelling emotional arc, one that will take you in a lot of surprising directions. And if you know people online, it will resonate with you very, very deeply.

I once knew a girl, Cassie, who posted on the same web forum I did. She lived in San Diego, wrote songs, and seemed pretty cool. When my family went to San Diego, she and I made plans to hang out, though those plans fell through. One day, out of nowhere, Cassie posted a cryptic apology to the forum and had her account deleted. I logged into the forum’s chatroom to find out if anyone knew why she did this. They did. Cassie wasn’t really Cassie – she was some other girl, who’d used someone else’s photos and songs to work her way into the forum. The rest of her personality was true, but those things were a lie.

Catfish isn’t that, exactly. But it made me think about Cassie for the first time in years.

John Cameron

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