The anti-social network

  • Article by: TOM HORGEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2010 - 3:50 PM

This documentary contains a stunning twist that will tear at your emotions.

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Nev, the protagonist of "Catfish"

And you thought MySpace was scary.

Facebook is the scene of the crime in "Catfish," a buzzed-about film that brandishes a twist so startling it's gotten people excited about -- gasp -- a documentary.

Before you get your hopes up, let's first say this: The big reveal is less diabolical than the trailers would have you believe. That said, it's still an emotionally tense piece of filmmaking and worth your curiosity.

The tale begins on a sweet note. In 2007, Nev Schulman, a young New York photographer, receives a package containing a painting based on one of his published photos. It's from Abby, an 8-year-old prodigy living in rural Michigan. Through phone calls and Facebook, he begins a friendship with Abby and her family, in particular her older sister, Megan. Nev and Megan strike up a long-distance relationship.

But this story soon takes a strange turn. Lucky for us, Nev's two best friends (Henry Joost and his brother, Ariel Schulman) have been documenting the whole peculiar online relationship on film.

When Nev catches Megan in several lies, he suspects she might not be who she says she is. The next thing we know, Nev and the two filmmakers are headed to Michigan to confront her.

Here's a question: When does a movie's marketing plan become as much a part of the cinematic experience as the film itself? Even if you haven't seen the trailer, the buzz surrounding the final 40 minutes of "Catfish" has been hard to miss.

The first half of the film is shot in bright, gleaming digital, with a whimsical soundtrack that fits the emerging love story between Nev and Megan. But when he arrives in Michigan, the mood turns chilling. As seen in the trailer, the trio first visit Megan's horse farm at night. The compound is eerily deserted and the film is now accompanied by a haunting soundtrack, suggesting we might be in for a slasher-flick finale.

While I won't reveal anything, I'll say this: What they find isn't exactly horrifying, but it's still perverse and emotionally devastating.

That said, a lot of fuss has been made over "Catfish's" validity. Some wonder if the story is made up or at the very least, embellished. I'm betting it's not. What Nev discovers is too sad to fabricate.

What makes "Catfish" special is the fact that all of this is captured on camera. We've been brought into a very personal episode in these people's lives ("Megan's" included) that we probably shouldn't be seeing. Clearly, Nev has been taken advantage of. But you can't help but feel that the filmmakers are taking advantage of us. The reality of the "Facebook family," as Nev calls them, is a sad one and their story is now being shared with the world. Is that OK?

That's the dilemma you'll come away with after seeing "Catfish." It's also what makes it one of the year's more fascinating movies.

Tom Horgen • 612-673-7909

  • CATFISH

    ★★★ out of 4 stars

    Rated: PG-13 for some sexual references.

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