Yes, I realize I’m getting to Catfish 8 years too late. In the meantime, there’s a show and the term has entered the lexicon. I.e. I know what this is about. So whatever shock I would have experienced seeing it when it first came out is obviously gone. This is unfortunate but hopefully it doesn’t matter.
I can imagine the sheer shock of seeing this film in theatres in 2010, before most of us suspected that catfishing was something that happened with any kind of frequency, if we even imagined it would happen at all. Sure, most of us were probably aware that people misrepresent themselves online, but not to this extent.
The film does a good job of stringing us along – I would imagine I would have been pretty frustrated initially – and there are moments of pretty great tension. It’s a pretty crazy story and it mostly still holds up even if you suspect what is happening.
So, then there’s the question of whether or not the film is “fake.” The primary accusation is that they knew more about the hoax than they let on in the film. I suspect this is true and it’s also worth noting that the negotiations for the hoax perpetrator to be on film are not on camera, which suggests that a lot was left on the cutting room floor and maybe some of this is performative.
Sometimes we forget that documentaries are films and are not reality but creations. Inevitably there is distortion in these creations. Some more than others obviously, with cinema verite type films having significantly less obvious distortion (though still some) than narrative documentaries. I don’t have a problem with these people making a film out of this experience. If they did know ahead of time that it was a hoax, before they started filming, they did a really good job of making it seem otherwise. I don’t have a problem with what they did, whatever it was.