Catfish, I can’t tell you what it is.

“A shattering conclusion.” “The best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never directed.” These are a couple of the tag line quotes that appear in the trailer for “Catfish.” The movie poster tells us “Don’t let anyone tell you what it is.”  Watch the trailer and it seems like this is going to be the next “The Blair Witch Project.”  Really, go to You Tube and watch it right now. I’ll wait …

What do you think? It looks suspenseful and frightening, doesn’t it? Well, it ain’t, sister. The marketing department for “Hit the Ground Running Films” did a number on twisting this two-minute trailer around to make it seem like you are going to see the next big documentary thriller. What you will see is a study in social media and the human psyche that is using modern technology (such as Google Earth, Facebook and texting) to bring the story together.

“Catfish” is a documentary by three aspiring filmmakers. The story begins by introducing us to Nev Schulman who is the main focus of the story that his brother, Rel Schulman, and friend, Henry Joost, are producing and directing.  Nev is a young, charismatic photographer in New York City.  One of his photos he had published made it all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  This is where an 8-year-old girl named Abby sees the photograph; she draws a painting of it and sends it to Nev. As having been the father of an 8 year old myself, I could tell something was rotten in Denmark from the quality of work this child was producing.
Nev and Abby start a pen pal relationship via Facebook. Nev befriends Abby’s entire family on Facebook and even talks to her mom on the phone. He becomes close to Abby’s older, attractive sister, Megan, and starts having feelings for her over the phone. Hey, it happens. There is an accurate scene where a nervous Nev calls Megan for the first time. Within today’s culture of meeting people online, it is exactly how these phone calls play out.  People meet online and text and e-mail back and forth until the day comes where they exchange phone numbers and there is an awkward human connection.  It’s a norm for this generation and they will easily relate to Nev’s nervous behavior while tripping over his words when he is speaking to Megan.

Nev and the filmmakers start putting the clues together from Megan’s e-mails. Through some detective work on You Tube and other various sites they are slowly realizing that someone is playing them like a squeezebox. They get the bright idea to drive to Michigan to confront Abby, Megan and the rest of the family.

This is where the movie trailer leaves us hanging. After a long trip, the trio of filmmakers arrives at the barn by Megan’s house in the middle of the night. They peer inside the barn…and… and…sorry I can’t tell you what it is. I have an agreement with a movie poster.  But, what I can tell you is that it’s not some 20 year old standing in the corner of a basement in an abandoned house in the woods. That has been done before. It’s not even startling, not in the sense that I would expect it to be.

The rest of the film spends its time explaining how Nev and his mystery solving team react to their findings.  If you pay attention (and, it’s pretty easy to do) you can pick up on where the movie was going.
There was no big “wow” moment nor was there “a shattering conclusion.” It was simply people explaining their actions on why they did what they did.  At the end the audience is rewarded because the film’s title is explained. Trust me — the end does not justify the means.

Should you see this movie? Only if you want a movie that has a lot of build up and very little climax. It would fare better in a small, independent movie theater rather than on Megaplex screens. In fact, I could see a professor using this as a teaching tool in a Psychology 101 or Sociology 101 classroom. It made some valid points about how people can manipulate one another on the Internet. The point is well taken, because I certainly felt manipulated by the movie trailer.

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