When a film gets called “the best Alfred Hitchcock film that Alfred Hitchcock never made” in its trailer, it has a lot to live up to. And– watching the trailer– it’s clear that Catfish definitely has the potential to be one darkly entertaining documentary: Here’s Nev, just another loveless New Yorker who’s met a girl online. After nearly a year composed of 1500 texts, emails, letters, and phone calls, Nev decides that he’s going to make the leap: Nev will travel– unannounced– to his Facebook girlfriend’s home to meet her. What happens next? I won’t tell you in the review that follows, but I’ll sure as hell try and convince you to see the movie. Keep on reading for my Catfish review, after the jump.
Catfish is, without a doubt, the scariest film that I’ve seen in theaters in the past year. There are people that will take issue with this statement, and there are sure to be– as there was at the Q&A following the AICN-organized screening of Catfish here in Austin last night– people that take issue with the film’s trailer, which seems to be selling a horror documentary. Still others will take issue with the ever-popular “Is it real, or is it fake?” debate, while others will claim that some of the people seen during its 100m runtime have been exploited. To all of these charges, I say: poppycock.
Just because a film doesn’t feature buckets of blood doesn’t mean it’s not tense, or frightening, or that people aren’t being gutted. Just because the trailers trade on the trappings of the thriller genre doesn’t mean that Catfish is any less thrilling or tension-filled (almost unbearably so in some moments) to sit through. And lemme tell ya: it’s not “FAKE1!!!!!1″, and it’s not a mockumentary. Catfish is the real deal, and anyone that tells you otherwise clearly hasn’t seen the film in its entirety yet. I’m warning you now: stay far away from those that would seek to spoil this film for you, and ignore the claims that it isn’t real.
As for the charges that anyone’s been exploited, well, I can see both sides of that coin. Obviously, because I’ve made the decision not to spoil anything about the film in this review, it’s going to be difficult– nevermind, it’s impossible– to explain why no one’s been exploited, at least not in my opinion…but I’m perfectly capable of understanding why some others might feel that way. The only way to find out what side of the argument you fall on is to actually see the film, and there’s no doubt that you should make arrangements to do so. Catfish has the potential to be one of the biggest movies of the year if Rogue Pictures handles the marketing in the right way, rolls it out in the correct (read: Paranormal Activity) manner. Everyone’s got a Facebook account, after all, and the mystery at the heart of Catfish will do for Facebook what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean.
This is the sort of film that you see, and then you immediately want others to see so that you can discuss it with them over a few pitchers (and perhaps a fistfight, if they decide to view the film differently than you did). It’s a shame that I remain unclear on when Catfish may be arriving in theaters, but if Rogue continues these advanced screenings and just gets 100 more people like me on their side, they’ll have every damn person in the country aware of the film by the end of this month: since seeing the film last night, I haven’t stopped considering it, wondering about certain scenes, or shooting out texts and emails to friends (ironic, all things considered) to see it at their earliest convenience. Having seen the film, now I want to see it succeed.
There’s bound to be a whole bunch of arguing about this film online, which is a shame, because we all know how that’ll progress: people could get more caught up in arguing about whether or not the film’s real than whether it’s any good, and it most certainly is. The film’s a joint-project from Nev Schulman, Henry Joost, and Ariel Schulman, and these three guys– not even attempting to make a movie along the way– have created more atmosphere, dread, tension, and flat-out stomach-churning fear in some of the moments they caught with their cameras than some horror-film directors capture during their entire careers. Last weekend, I let The Last Exorcism have its way with me. That film wasn’t a fraction as scary, effective, or thought-provoking as Catfish, even though it so obviously wanted to be.
The film’s three directors– though, to be clear, only Ariel and Henry are listed as the film’s actual directors on IMDB– all appear in the film, and all are uniformally interesting to watch. After the movie ended, there was a Q&A led by Harry Knowles, where the three of them let us in on a few things that happened after the credits rolled. Ariel promised that many of these moments (short of the story involving Brett Ratner’s bedroom, two Playboy bunnies, and his incredible DVR) will appear as “Special Features” on the upcoming DVD, and I simply cannot wait to see some of these moments. The story of Catfish is a shocking one, and one that’ll leave you with more than a couple unanswered questions. But according to all involved, we’ll get a few more answers– things left out of the film in consideration of the running time, it would seem– when the DVD arrives. This is further good news.
It’s really difficult to say much more about the film without spoiling anything, and I’m not about to be the douchebag that spoils this movie for anyone. All you really need to know about Catfish heading into the film is this: A) it’s scary, and you’re likely to be on the edge of your seat during its second half; B) it’s real, and anyone that tells you it isn’t needs a swift and merciless beating; and C) it shouldn’t be spoiled for anyone, and anyone that you meet that might be giving out clues or plot points to people who haven’t seen the film should be immediately beaten, as well. Just head into Catfish knowing that you’re about to see one of the most effective, amazing, terrifying documentaries you’re ever likely to see, and you’ll do just fine.
Scott Wampler is a film critic, entertainment blogger, standup comic, and man of constant sorrow from Austin, TX. You can read a bunch of his scribblings HERE, or you can stay tuned to Collider.com, where he provides a series of film reviews when the planets are correctly aligned.