Co-directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the absorbing, low-fi Catfish is a very generational cinematic offering, a digital-age mystery about identity, human frailty and social connection. Less is truly more when heading into the film, but in the broadest strokes the movie centers on a 24-year-old New York City photographer, Nev Schulman (Ariel’s brother), who is contacted on Facebook by an eight-year-old Michigan girl who asks permission to paint one of his pictures, and then falls headlong into a complex online relationship with the girl and her family.
A documentary pieced together like a thriller, Catfish highlights, in ways funny as well as squirmy and uncomfortable, the parasitic nature of parasocial relationships, and how technology can feed intimacy in ways both new and exciting and also inherently false. (For all the shrugging ease that the use of the Internet provides in terms of facilitating lies or mistruths, the film also shows the flipside — that the Internet makes it that much easier to investigate people, and their claims.)
Catfish hums along and works on several levels, not the least of which because Nev (above) is both engaging and vulnerable. Its few missteps are less outright failings, and more sins of omission. For all the ghastly ruminations summoned forth by what Nev and his filmmaker friends uncover when they finally trip to Michigan to uncover the truth, it would be equally legitimate to more deeply assay the need for connection that drove Nev in the first place. Of course, that’s something that resides in all of us, which perhaps cuts a bit deeper to the bone than is comfortable for both those involved as well as an audience, who naturally like to retain the right to pass judgment. For more information, click here; for an interview with the directors, meanwhile, click here. (Universal/Rogue, PG-13, 86 minutes)