This review is full of spoilers, so I recommend not reading it if you haven't seen the film first.
"Catfish" is a moderately entertaining look at how Facebook and other online communication breeds obsession and strange franticness, for its first 3/4. But when the film in its last quarter decides to make a big reveal, it becomes much less interesting, much less direct, and much less ethically sound.
The filmmakers, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, have not gone the Casey Affleck route and admitted that they've made a mockumentary, so there still is legitimacy in the positions of considering it real or fake. Thinking of it as real, I side with my reader Cristina Acuna, who asked: "Why is nothing private anymore?" The film is about how Ariel's brother Nev talked to people he'd never met or seen before. However, it drifts beyond the innocuous. It begins when a girl from Michigan sends Nev paintings of his photographs. He engages in insane amounts of talk on email and chat, branching beyond the girl, Abby, to her mother Angela, and finally to her half-sister Megan. He starts to, through Megan's Facebook photos, develop an interest in her. They get up to the point (with sweet talk and everything) where if they met each other, they'd really be in a relationship. So Nev decides, when out west, to go.
When they are at another stop, Nev starts to find some problems. He finds that Abby's supposed art gallery hasn't been in operation for years, that Megan keeps sending him songs she apparently covered, but instead ripped off of Youtube and the rest of the Internet, and that her ranch is empty. But what should be an anvil drop isn't when we find Angela at home, holding Megan's phone as well as hers, painting, and updating over ten different fake Facebook profiles. If this film is real, it's exploitative to the max and I don't think that it should have been made into a movie for everyone to see. That they did means that either the Schulman and Joost are the imposing scoundrels everyone says they are, or they set it all up.
I think the film could get off pretty much unscathed (if a bit cheesy) if it were fake, save one thing: at the end of the film, there is a listing that one of Angela's mentally-challenged sons died. To create that sort of stuff in the way that Schulman and Joost (may) have to me is somewhat inexcusable. If the film is fake, they obviously put it in there to try to fake authenticity. But it just sort of makes me sick.
So it's a paradox: the film is shaky either way (much like Simon Abrams noted about "Exit Through the Gift Shop," in a piece I disagree with all the same but still admire). Ariel told me that it was as real, and if he wants to go that way, let him, though I'm unsure of what good that does the movie. C+