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A movie directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

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To Catch a Catfish: A Film Review

  • Feb 11, 2011

“The internet is always lying to you.”
- personal advice to me from Mike (Cruft), whom I initially met online in 2003.

When Catfish started stirring the waters (tee hee) of art house theaters here in Los Angeles I did not know what it was about. After I caught wind from a tweet praising it, I inquired – she, the Tweeter, said she couldn’t tell me anything other than it was good and I must get to a theater ASAP to see it. Well, art house theaters are awesome sauce but I did not move fast enough before it went out and I had to play the waiting game for its DVD release. In this time, I poked around the internet and found out the basic premise. Once Catfish hit Netflix, I shot it to the top of my queue. It arrived today. I watched it today. I wrote a frenzied draft of this review on paper as soon as it was over. That is how immediate and how deeply Catfish affected me.

Spoiler-Free Synopsis: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman document the strange series of events that unfolds when a gifted 8-year-old artist named Abby contacts Nev, a 24-year-old photographer (and Schulman’s brother), through Facebook. After Abby sends Nev a remarkable painting based on one of his photos, Nev begins corresponding with her family — including her 19-year-old sister. They eventual realize that something’s not quite right and the trio out to uncover the truth. – paraphrased from Netflix

If you wish to rent this, remaining spoiler-free, please take this into mind: This documentary receives a lot of backlash for being marketed as a “thriller” (which I was unaware of and disagree with) and if stories that deal with meeting people from the internet and of the like have no interest to you, do not watch this film. It is not a thriller to anyone but those who experienced it – or have experienced similar situations.

If you wish to remain spoiler free, do not continue beyond the image below.


READ ME ASIDE: It’s been put into question whether this is a documentary, a faux-documentary or something that really happened but was partially recreated for the sake of documenting. I honestly have no opinion either way; there is enough evidence to support all three theories and it is not my intent to sway you in any particular direction. This is merely my reaction to the movie as it presented itself to me, and how I feel about the internet and getting caught up with the people in it.

I was skeptical of this film directly because how is it possible this guy went along with this charade without doing a Google search on Abby and her alleged success? And when the moment of truth happened with Megan’s song I thought it was too convenient that the documentary switched gears from being about this Big City artist and his zany country artist Internet e-pals to full-blown Facebook mystery of the week.

Despite the clumsiness of the film, I was forced to put my cynicism aside and remember my own online tenure as an internet friend, of meeting these internet “strangers” and admit: Yes. It really is that easy to both fabricate and fall for a web of lies.

Wracked with anxiety once the documentary moved into investigation mode, I was positively on the edge of my proverbial seat, pausing the movie at times to catch my breath and let my own tension come down. This was worse than any horror/suspense/thriller. There was no blood & guts, no ghosts, no zombies or mad doctors looking to make a creature out of kidnapped humans of any kind. And yet I was terrified simply because this really happened. Even if it was partially fabricated, it could have happened and real shit like this bothers me more than any mindless gore flick will.

What Happened: Angela, a 40-year old woman living with her husband Vince, her two severely handicapped twin stepsons and their daughter Abby decided to use Abby as a vehicle to get in touch with Nev. She was the painter of every piece, though she credited Abby. Megan, though real, has not been in her life for a good amount of time. All of Nev’s communication with Megan (and all of the family members, friends and associates on Facebook) was really Angela. Angela felt remorse for her actions once Nev gently confronted her, claiming that once she got going she just couldn’t stop because she did not want to lose Nev as a friend.

Nev had the opportunity to cut of ties with Megan/Abby/Angela immediately after unearthing the first big lie, but curiosity kept him going. Personally, I think it’s sometimes easier to disengage from an “in person” relationship than an online one because many people present their best selves, perpetuating that this fragment of their personality is indeed who we are at all times. Who would want to give that kind of seeming perfection up? We want that fantasy to be real, even when the picture perfect image is beginning to come apart.

As a writer who has spent years dedicated to her fiction, thriving on character building, and as a woman living in a stressful health related situation that has made me pass opportunity several times in my life, I understand Angela in a certain light: the escapism that the internet provides is addictive and alluring. Angela’s lies are inexcusable, but a forgiving eye can see how this lonely, regret-filled woman wanted to be close to a world that is no longer attainable.

Nev’s gentleness is something be admired. While he readily admitted that the editor of the film was kindly toward his portrayal, Nev still made the decision to remain positive, not accusatory or confrontational as he wanted to enable Angela to achieve a level of comfort enough to come clean with the truth. Even with his acceptance, she could not be 100% honest until after Nev and Co. went back home.

For those that use this film as a reason for not meeting people from the internet I can only reference my own experiences – which at this current moment stands at 97% positive. Take into consideration I have had internet friends since roughly 1997. Some I no longer speak with – either because the general passing of time/interest or by a falling out – some I’ve dated, some that I have traveled to and with (Hi, Jen!) and some like Mike (and the Cruft Family) from my opening quote, that have become so treasured a friend I cannot imagine my life without them.
Yes, that 3% exists, but I have only myself to partially blame as, like Nev, I only saw what I wanted to see and ignored what, in hindsight, was red flags. Without that 3% though I would not have learned to dig deeper, both in them and myself, and learned the art of moving on gracefully. I am wiser for that 3%, as I am sure Nev is for this experience. The lesson to be learned is: when something is too good to be true hurry up, before it’s too late, and use your Google-Fu.

Overall Rating
Story: A+
Execution: B+ It was a great story, but a somewhat clumsy execution, with too many convenient moments (including the origins of the title.)
Would I Recommend: I would for people who I think would “get it” – those who have a heavy online social life, have met friends from online, etc. I would not for people who have no presence online and a cynical view of meeting people from “Google”.
Would I Buy: Probably. While I remain skeptical of certain “coincidences” I still think the overall story is worth merit.
Can Your Mum Watch It: Yes, but if she’s anything like my mom she’ll say, “What’s a Facebook?”

What did you think of this review?

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February 24, 2011
I'm game if it's not going to scare the wits out of me! :-)
March 03, 2011
The only potential of inspiring true fright is what people will lie about to keep people in their lives
February 24, 2011
Okay. I need to watch this! And I love the "Can Your Mum Watch It" section of your overall ratings. Too cute :)
February 24, 2011
Thank you! It's something I always take into consideration because I live with my mom :D
February 23, 2011
Great write-up and I completely agree with everything you said. I found it both admirable and astounding that he could control himself to allow her to build up a comfort level to tell him the truth. Angela made me sad and I could see exactly why she fabricated a fantasy for herself, unable to stop or step out of it. It was deceptive and not something I condone but, it is understandable given her lot in life. Thanks for this awesome review!
February 24, 2011
Thank you for reading & commenting =D
February 12, 2011
wow! you did such a great breakdown of this film! thanks for posting it here in our community! I still have to see this movie...
February 12, 2011
Thank you, I was aiming to not make it a jumble of emotional blather LOL Glad you enjoyed, thanks for commenting!
More Catfish reviews
review by . March 11, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****     "Catfish" is the kind of movie that would have done even better if it hadn't been advertised so poorly. The trailers make the thing out to be some sort of thriller. What we get when we actually watch the thing is a drama; but luckily, it's a good one with a heart. I do admire "Catfish" for its entertaining qualities; and then again, there are moments where the thing just wasn't all that good. But as a whole, "Catfish" is for sure the movie that you'd expect …
Quick Tip by . January 04, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I hate to see people embarrassed even when they deserve it. When it was over I wound up disliking the deluded as much as the deluders.
About the reviewer
Rachael ()
   I am a freelance travel/food writer with my own hobby blog, Glass of Win.   I am a regularly featured writer for Visit the Place Los Angeles magazine and online community.
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About this movie


The slipperiness of truth and lies on the Internet gets played out in unexpected ways in the documentary Catfish. When Nev Schulman receives a painting based on a photograph of his from an 8-year-old girl named Abby in Michigan, he doesn't realize this is going to lead to a long-distance romance with Abby's older sister Megan… and that this romance, conducted over the phone and the Internet, will lead to something far more troubling. It would be unfair to reveal more details of Catfish, as the process of discovery is one of its pleasures--but even if you do know the sequence of events, the movie's ultimate reward is not the revelation of secrets but the surprising and very human interactions of the movie's last third. While there is a thriller aspect to the movie--and the suspense at points is indeed nail biting--the revelation isn't the bang that Hollywood movies lead you to expect. Instead,Catfish turns sad, unsettling, and sure to inspire arguments about motivations and human nature.--Bret Fetzer
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Genre: Documentary
Release Date: 17 September 2010 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 87 min
Studio: Universal
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