Catfish review

Don’t judge a Facebook by its cover…

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Hi! My name’s Sven. I’m a 6ft 5in male model, handsome and hung like a porn star.

Well, this might not be true. But you wouldn’t know that if we met on Facebook, the web phenomenon fast becoming – thanks to The Social Network and now this Sundancepleasing documentary – a byword for cyberspace intrigue.

That’s certainly been the experience of Nev Schulman, a New York photographer who, having been ‘poked’ by an eight-yearold child prodigy who sent him paintings based on his pictures, went on to become friendly with her mother Angela and even more so with her older sister Megan.

Being filmmakers, Nev’s brother Ariel and their flatmate Henry Joost recorded the progress of this virtual relationship, only to see it take a dark turn when the messages and posts Nev received began not to add up.

A cautionary tale for the computer age, Catfish is also a detective story that delights in picking apart the evasions, fabrications and downright whoppers underpinning a romance that, inevitably, turns out to be too good to be true.

When unveiled, though, the actuality proves just as fascinating, an impromptu road trip to the suburbs of Michigan providing not only a great example of “Gotcha!” cinema, but also a valid reminder that real life is always more interesting than the virtual kind.

Showing admirable grace under mounting pressure and an ingenuity Sherlock would be proud of, the deluded Nev emerges surprisingly well from what can’t have been an easy ordeal. (The scene where he reads out Megan’s saucy texts is an excruciating highlight.)

Although Catfish hinges on an extended deception, there really aren’t any heroes and villains on this journey of discovery, even if Ariel and Henry could be accused of indulging in some mild exploitation.

Still, the end result is a compulsive, propulsive study of relationships virtual and real.

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Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.