Wired life

Catfish is one of the most compelling films of the year

Ends Thursday, Nov. 11. Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

First things first. The preview for Catfish is extremely misleading. This is not a scary film. You wouldn’t know it by watching the trailer, which heavily suggests something going terribly awry as the filmmakers drive down a remote driveway at night (while haunting voices and an ominous soundtrack rumble in the background), then peer into a dark barn window and … actually, nothing.

I say all this to illustrate how disruptive the preview’s suggestion was to my perception of the film’s actual flow. Because, other than that manipulation, this was one of most compelling films I’ve seen in a long time.

The filmmakers who ventured down that country road were three professional dance photographers. They were also video-documenting one of them (Nev Schulman) who has met an attractive young woman named Megan via Facebook. Without meeting her in person, he strikes up a long-distance relationship with her, as well as friendships with her younger sister, Abby, and her mother, Angela (his “Facebook family”). Then, finally, the cameras document his travels from New York City to a small Michigan town as he tries to find and meet them all in the flesh.

Warning signs start popping up online long before they make it to that farm, and the story that unfolds with the people Schulman and crew encounter on the other side is actually chilling, but not because it’s scary. It’s a cold look (however accidental and, at times, juvenile) at how twisted reality can become as we increasingly live out much of our lives interacting with others via a virtual world.

To give any more details would be to give away too much. Though I should say that there’s word going around that the directors are trying to pull a fast one here, and that this is actually something of a mockumentary. If I hadn’t forced myself to avoid all press ahead of time for fear of spoiling the promised twist, I could have quickly found out that it’s probably not the case (the very real Angela has already been interviewed on 20/20), and I would’ve also realized that I wasn’t walking into The Blair Witch Project.