Catfish

I suppose that now that this “Facebook” thing has fully made its way into our public consciousness, we shouldn’t be surprised at the emergence of a new subgenre: the Facebook Movie. There are of course two such films in theatres right now, but the only one I have actually seen and can thus recommend is the compelling independent doc “Catfish,” only playing at a few theatres in Toronto but still garnering good word-of-mouth (mostly from Andrea and I to all of our friends and acquaintances).

Thanks to the marketing for this movie, I went in expecting a suspenseful horror movie that would blur the lines between documentary and fiction a la Paranormal Activity. This explains my absolute terror in the scene (which appears in the trailer) outside of a dark barn in rural Michigan that leads up to the great denouement; I was tense, a little pale, gripping the cupholder on my seat as I waited for some demonic evil to suddenly jump out from behind a haybale. (Andrea had a better idea of what the film was about and assumed I did as well, so she was unaware of my silent terror… and has since found it a source of amusement.) The film, however, entirely thwarted my expectations and turned out to be a tender, thoughtful but still deeply disturbing exploration of love and identity in the digital age. No supernatural beings, just the “tangled web” of human relationships and our capacity to deceive.

Obviously the element of surprise plays a big role in this film so I won’t give away the ending, but the gist of it is that one Nev Shulman, a photographer living in New York, is drawn into an online friendship with a lovely family in Michigan: a nine-year-old daughter who likes to paint, her kindly mother, and eventually her attractive half-sister. The blossoming intimacy between Nev and “Megan” the half-sister is impeded only by their technologically mediated distance. For months they carry on a digital romance, as is increasingly common in this day and age.

As you might expect, “Megan” is not who she seems. No, she isn’t a serial killer or a creature from beyond the grave. But the revelation of her true identity does constitute one of the best “twists” I’ve seen in a film (especially a documentary) in a while.

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