The anonymity of the Internet all but guarantees that, at one point or another, we'll all be duped. It could be innocuous, like thinking that forwarding an e-mail to 10 friends will net you rewards. It could be fatal, in the case of last year's so-called "Craigslist Killer."
And somewhere in between sits everything else: the Nigerian lottery scams, the "proof" that President Obama is from Kenya, the hot girl you've never met in person saying she's in love with you.
The last is what hooks Nev Schulman, a 20-something, scruffily handsome filmmaker in this intriguing documentary. At least I think it's a documentary.
After Nev is profiled in the press, an 8-year-old girl named Abby Faccio paints his picture and sends it to him, sparking an online friendship via Facebook that soon involves Abby's older sister, Megan — a 19-year-old beautiful blonde.
Directors Ariel Schulman (Nev's brother) and Henry Joost roughly capture Nev's puppy love, which explodes into full-blown lust after long, teasing phone conversations with the sultry-voiced Megan. She begins writing and singing love songs for Nev, which she sends as MP3s. He's all OMG-smitten, until his sib thinks he's heard the tunes before.
An act of minor duplicity plants the seed of doubt in Nev, who impulsively drives to Michigan to make a surprise visit to the Faccio family. Or will the surprise be on him?
"Catfish"'s tagline reads, "Don't let anyone tell you what it is," and I won't. That makes the doc difficult to review, but even if you can guess half the twist, that still leaves another half. And it's that slice that reveals an unexpected poignancy, albeit a disturbing one.
I can tell you that it's not what the studio is selling: a jolt of horror. With the trailer and commercials ending on an ominous shot of Nev peeking into a garage door in the dead of night, audiences may expect another "Blair Witch Project." There are no scares to be found — only suspense. It may have viewers near the edge of their seats, but in nervous anxiety, not fright.
But is it real? Or are we being snookered ourselves? The filmmakers swear to its authenticity, and I'm inclined to believe them. Without revealing specifics, elements are present that cannot be faked, or at least not without unlikely happy accidents.
Lo-fi although it may be, "Catfish" is one doc worth clicking "Like." —Rod Lott