Featuring Yaniv Schulman, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Angela Wesselman, Vincent Wesselman and Abby Wesselman.
Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman.
Distributed by Rogue Pictures. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Ever since The Blair Witch Project became a surprise hit over ten years ago, there have been periodic similar films made – mostly in the horror genre, but not always. These films follow a pretty standard template, passing themselves off as documentaries made by unknowns; ordinary people who decide to film themselves and eventually get caught up in some horrible predicament. There is never a cast listing at the beginning of the film to break the illusion; the actors generally use their own names and all the filming is done in jumpy, hand held video.
Some of these have even become surprise hits – Cloverfield took the idea and went Hollywood with it and Paranormal Activity became a shock midnight-movie favorite last year, eventually becoming one of the biggest word-of-mouth hits of the summer.
The latest of these ambiguously real “documentaries” is Catfish (and I suspect it was mostly real, though probably massaged quite a bit for effect). The buzz for Catfish suggested this film might be the biggest mind-blower yet. And, well, not to give up the surprise ending, I think I can simply say: No, it’s not. In fact, the ending is rather anticlimactic.
That’s a shame, because the promos for the movie led you to believe that Catfish would be spectacular. It certainly had a good set up. New York arty type starts a friendship with a prodigy eight-year-old painter who lives in Michigan. Eventually he befriends her whole family, including the pretty mom and the scorching hot 19-year-old sister.
The sister is a dancer and singer and sometime model and soon she and the New York guy are sexting and discussing meeting. The guy – who is a photographer – agrees to film the relationship for his brother and his partner as a documentary. However, suddenly he realizes some of the family’s story is kind of fishy. (Imagine that, someone lying on the Internet!) He and his film crew decide to show up at the Michigan home of his new cyber-friends.
And, promises the movie’s coming attractions trailer, you will be terrified and shocked to see what happens when they arrive at that house.
So what is going to happen? The tense viewer is wondering, visions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left dancing in their brains.
I won’t spoil the secret (though perhaps it deserves to be spoiled) however I will say it’s a pretty severe letdown.
Not that it’s a horrible storyline or completely uninteresting. Taken out of the context that this film has been promoted it may have even made for an interesting little exposé on modern social rituals. However, it is so not what we were led to believe we were going to experience.
Honestly, after watching it, I can’t help but believe that perhaps it was indeed supposed to be a normal documentary and after the surprise success of Paranormal Activity they decided to sexy it up in the advertising to get the midnight moviegoers.
However, word of mouth cuts both ways and I can’t believe that Catfish’s reputation will survive the bait-and-switch routine that their promotion has perpetrated on the audience.
This may even be a shame. Had I gone into the movie without the weight of the false expectations that the movie’s promotion conjured up, I would have undoubtedly enjoyed the movie a lot more. Instead, I was sitting there waiting for a gotcha moment that never quite materialized. Well, there are some gotcha moments, they are just much more muted (and dare I say, kind of predictable) than we were led to think.
I’d like to go back and revisit Catfish down the line sometime, without those expectations, to see if it works better for me free of the baggage that its promotion has thrust upon it. I rather expect the film would be much better once it is allowed to be true to itself.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 1, 2010.