Review: Catfish


Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Released: January 27, 2011
Grade: A-

The poster for Catfish is fairly simple.  It has a black background and a drawing of a red catfish.  There are no images and no names.  The only words are – “don’t let anyone tell you what it is.”  It’s designed to give almost nothing away about the movie.

The trailer goes into slightly more detail.  It’s a documentary centring on a 23-year-old photographer from New York named Nev Schulman. Through Facebook, he became friends with a family from Michigan who admired his work.  His brother and one of his good friends decided to chronicle Nev’s developing online relationship with this family.  Their footage is what you’ll see on screen.

That’s it folks.  There’s nothing more I can say about the plot.  We live in a world where movie studios are more conservative than ever.  If you see a poster or watch a trailer, you know almost everything about the movie.  The reason they do this is so that the audience will feel comfortable.  If they go into a theatre and don’t get what they’re expecting, many will have a negative reaction.

Such logic is frustrating for people like me.  I love being surprised and thrown off my guard when I see a film.  Apparently I’m in the minority.  Let me ask you the question then.  If I take you to the movies and give you a choice between two films – one that you think looked good from the advertisements and one that you know nothing about, which one will you pick?

I applaud the makers of Catfish for the way in which they’ve made and marketed their movie.  They’re selling it as something different… and that’s a big reason why I liked it.  If I knew all its secrets beforehand, would I like it as much?  The answer is definitely no.  So in that case, my positive review is a critique of the “experience” as much as the content of the film itself.  It’s fun to see a film that you know very little about.  It’s then fun to tell other people to see it (without giving anything away of course).

Since I have to be evasive in terms of plot details, I’ll use a metaphor to sum up my thoughts.  Watching Catfish is like going on a brand new rollercoaster for the first time.  You have a rough idea of what you’re in for.  There are only so many twists and turns that the coaster can take.  The catch is that you don’t always know which ones are going to happen and when they’re going to happen.  You can see a sharp bend ahead but what lies beyond?  In terms of this film, I hope you get the chance to find out for your self.