- Trouble on the line: Nev Schulman takes a call.
Some online "friends" might need further study. Social networking is at the heart of Catfish, a self-described "reality thriller" from New York City-based filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost. The two decide to film Schulman's brother, Nev, after the photographer strikes up an Internet acquaintance with Abby, an 8-year-old Michigan girl. Abby sends Nev a painting she made of one of his published photos; he's charmed, and she sends more. Apparently, Abby's paintings are in high demand, a cute bit of news that prompts the filmmaking project.
Soon, Nev is Facebooking Abby's mom, Angela; Abby's strikingly attractive half-sister, Megan; Megan's friends; and so on. In fact, Nev and Megan spend months texting, Facebooking and talking on the phone, establishing the beginnings of a romantic relationship. A job in Colorado spurs the three film dudes to take a detour to northern Michigan to surprise-visit Abby, Angela and Megan. (Only in New York City is Colorado near Michigan.)
It's a surprise visit, all right. Catfish is essentially a 94-minute riff on the old joke, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." Or, to paraphrase: If you present a documentary, especially one with lots of grainy, on-the-fly footage, people will believe it's true.
Everything as presented in Catfish may be true. It's certainly plausible. But it may also be another meta-experiment in viewer gullibility. Or half and half. How illuminating, exploitive, entertaining or funny the film is will depend on where you draw the line between reality and "reality." Catfish is no thriller, though it is intriguing up to a point. But in the end, its revelations -- true or not -- should have been obvious to us. AMC Loews