‘Catfish’ Review

Published 5 years ago by , Updated September 17th, 2010 at 1:42 pm,

Catfish Movie Catfish Review

Screen Rant’s Rob Frappier & Mike Eisenberg do a dual review of Catfish

One of the most buzzed-about films at this year’s Sundance film festival was the intriguing documentary Catfish. The film focuses on the story of a New York City photographer, Nev Schulman, who befriends a seemingly prodigious 8-year-old painter, Abby, on Facebook.

As Nev grows closer to Abby, who regularly sends him paintings of his photographs, he connects with the rest of her virtual network on Facebook, including other members of her family. One of these connections is to Abby’s attractive older half-sister Megan.

As Nev and Megan grow closer together through Facebook, and then through telephone calls and text messages, Nev’s brother Ral and his co-director Henry Joost begin to document the relationship. Eventually, Nev decides that he wants to meet Megan in person, but she is evasive. Soon, the trio begin noticing inconsistencies in Megan’s behavior, so they set out on a trip to the tiny town of Ishpheming, Michigan to seek the truth.

It is best if we leave the plot description there. Suffice it to say, the film and its stranger-than-fiction story has set the Internet ablaze with discussion. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the film has achieved uniform critical praise. While many reviewers enjoyed the film, many others did not. Here at Screen Rant, we have one of each.

I, Rob Frappier, saw the film and thought it was excellent. My colleague, Mike Eisenberg, saw it and didn’t enjoy it at all. So, rather than only  giving you one review to read, we’re giving you two. Enjoy them both (be advised that there will be some unintentional SPOILERS in our reviews) and make your own decision about whether you will go and see Catfish this weekend.

Rob’s Review – 4.5/5 Stars

catfish still Catfish Review

I went into Catfish knowing virtually nothing about the film – and boy am I glad I did. If you have seen any advertising for this film, you will undoubtedly expect a different movie. The trailers suggest something akin to a real-life horror story. They’re not entirely wrong, but they’re misleading. Besides, Catfish is so much more.

In my opinion, there hasn’t been a movie this year that has delivered as much suspense, humor, and heartbreak as Catfish. Furthermore, without going deeply into the central mystery of the film (knowing as little as possible is the way to go), I can also say that no movie to date has approached the ups and downs of living in the ultra-wired world of Facebook, Google, and YouTube as intelligently and provocatively as Catfish does.

We rarely think about it, but we live in a world straight out of science fiction. Sure, there are no flying cars or personal robots (yet), but just consider the Internet. In fractions of a second, I can send a stupid cat video to fellow Screen Rant writer Ross Miller…in Scotland. Every single day, millions of people use their mobile phones to share their up-to-the-minute thoughts with the world on Twitter. Need directions? Google not only gives you the address you’re looking for, but satellite photos to boot.

Catfish Documentary Movie Catfish Review

And then there’s the big boy of the social networking world, Facebook. Facebook – with its more than 500 million users – has helped to usher in a new era of social interaction. With nothing but a picture, a short biography, and a handful of likes and dislikes, it is possible to create an approximation of your actual personality. Factor in the way you interact with friends and family, as well as the links and content you share on your Facebook wall, and suddenly the digital version of you starts to become much clearer. In a sense, it becomes who you actually are, at least to the mind of a stranger.

That’s where Catfish makes its most fascinating discoveries. Search engines like Google have made it infinitely easier and faster to access information. On the flipside, social media has given us the ability to create our own version of reality. So, how can you tell if the person on the other end of your instant message, text, tweet, or wall post is actually who they say they are? What compels us to reach out to strangers online? Can online relationships provide the same level of emotional satisfaction as “real” relationships?

Some people have criticized the film for being inauthentic, calling it a faux-documentary. I understand their complaints. The way that events unfold certainly strains credulity, but even if it were partially staged (and for the record I don’t think it is) that doesn’t make it any less compelling.

Catfish movie image 5 Catfish Review

I think that many people have a limited view of documentary film. They are often thought of either as agenda-driven films – such as the docs of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock – or simply informational films, such as March of the Penguins. In Catfish, we see something different: this is a mystery film. Things occur in ways that we could never anticipate or expect. It feels like a narrative film, but it isn’t. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all the more reason to see it.

I will need to see Catfish again to cement my feelings, and to speculate further just how much the three guys really knew about what they were getting into, but I think that when all is said and done, this movie will be considered an important touchstone of the Internet generation, and one of the most memorable documentary films in history.

Read Mike Eisenberg’s “Thumbs down” review of Catfish

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  1. i’m on the fence about this. i’m reading such good reviews of this movie elsewhere. I made the mistake of reading the plot on Wikipedia and now that i know the twist and that is is a real documentary and not a scripted suspence film, i just dont know anymore.

    i guess i’ll just wait for time to pass, see what happens this award season and other reviews.

  2. Like the double review, its like screenrants siskle and ebert :). Haven’t seen a trailer for this so i have no expectations. Ill check it out.

  3. I really like the idea of a duel review

  4. Personally, I avoid facebook and twitter. I find it much more self satisfying to form real life relationships than to advertize who I think I am. I really enjoyed geting opposing takes on the project though. Well done, ScreenRant!

    • Well said…I want to form my own opinion on who someone is and not what they only want me to see and it is the subtlties of real life face to face contact that make those assertions possible..not links, a list of likes, and a few favorite movies and songs…

      • fake people are everywhere even in real life, at least online u can delete and block there sorry culos.

        • well said SIN!!!

  5. I saw the trailer for this film yesterday at the cinema. I was curious. I’m glad you did this dual review. it’s a great idea to read opposing views.

    I can’t say I’m impressed with the idea of this film, now that I know it’s all basically a hoax.

    • Hi Mike,

      You should know that the film isn’t a hoax. Everything in the documentary actually happened in real life. The marketing suggests a movie that is perhaps MORE of a shocker, but that doesn’t mean the actual content of the film was faked.


      • Sorry to disappoint you, but it IS a hoax. They are actors. And it’s all scripted.

        • I’m curious. Where did you get the idea that the film is a hoax with actors rather than real people? Normally one of the “hoax” films (like Paranormal Activity, for example) is promoted as a “fake documentary,” a staged fictional film disguised as a documentary. “Catfish” has never been promoted this way and all of the participants have stated that the film is an actual documentary.

  6. I’m glad you guys put up two reviews, now I know to avoid it. Even having seen the trailer, it looks utterly boring to me. The guys in the film do not seem like someone I’d want to follow for an entire feature length movie. In 20 years, this film will more than likely seem like a product of it’s time and be forgotten.

    Oh, and the subject matter CAN provide a great film. I saw “The Social Network” last night and it was amazing, pretty much flawless. You just have to know how to handle this material. People need to realize that just because they think it’s interesting/entertaining that their friend is trying to meet a girl from online, it doesn’t mean a huge audience wants to.

  7. Is it so hard to review a movie without giving away plot points? The first paragraph already tells me more than I want to know going into the theatre.

    I want to know: is it good, bad, ridiculous, fun, interesting, worth seeing. End.

  8. I actually watched this trailer today. After watching I was curious and wanted more answers. Great Idea with the opposing reviews. Really gets me thinking about if I really should see this film or not.

    Catfish’s theme seems familiar to me and unoriginal. Now that I know its a fraud I may rethink seeing this film. There is always Netflix.

  9. I would have enjoyed this if it had been a special on the Discovery Channel. This movie has no business being released in theatres and should be ashamed for the misleading trailers. Shame shame.

  10. The trailer itself is also a “Catfish”.

  11. I liked the movie but take exception to the use of “heartbreak” to describe it, since the filmmakers were happy to show others’ heartbreak but really avoided the emotional impact on Nev. I think it was sort of dishonest to leave that out (except for a couple of brief scenes where he was like “I’m mad leave me alone.”)

  12. I’d like to comment on Mike’s review and the the mysterious appearance of “professional camera gear”. For starters, this film was by far-and-large filmed on little one-chip cameras and from what I can tell, a little point-and-click still cameras with video functionality. The reason for shooting like this is because these little cameras are easy to keep with you at all times. It’s cheap, so if it breaks, who cares. The filmmakers were catching a lot of candid moments because they had these tiny cameras on them at all times. I own all my own professional gear. I don’t take my camera package somewhere unless I have a reason. That stuff is expensive and hard to travel with. It requires a couple of minutes for the camera to even function properly, especially seeing as “professional gear” is all manual. My opinion is that once the filmmakers realized that they were actually getting a great story, they made sure to keep their “a-cam”, or professional solution ready to roll at all times.

  13. I totally agree with Mike’s review. Although the one star is one star too many. After seeing the trailer I had also fallen into the trap that something was going to happen in the last half of this movie. Unfortunately nothing happened and I couldn’t wait for the final credits to put me out of my misery. I’m curious to know how they were able to get funding to bring this to the big screen. There is zero creativity in the story, no great camera work, no intriguing characters, just a complete waste of time. I’m sure this film made money though, but that can only be due to the ingenious marketing ploy. This is now my number one all time worst movie ever. Ken

  14. My personal thoughts on the film aside: the negative review needs to focus more on the film as a text in and of itself. As a casual reader, I get the impression from the negative review that the film’s faults are due to its production and marketing values, which are poor premises for good film criticism – in my opinion.