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Social networking is fun! Until it turns creepy.

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If  you think that relationships will be deeper in the 21st century through the wonders of technology, Catfish offers a cautionary tale.

The film is a documentary about three best friends in new York city. But it’s also about Facebook and social networking, and it probably offers more insight into their consequences than the recent Mark Zuckerberg biopic.

The story focuses on Nev, a young, good-looking photographer, who one day receives a painting from an 8-year-old fan named Abby. She lives in small-town Michigan, and the two begin e-mailing, with Abby’s replies mostly written by her mom. Eventually, as relationships tend to evolve these days, they become friends on Facebook.

Nev’s brother rel and their buddy henry, both filmmakers, begin to document the correspondence. Nev gets wound up in the Facebook family, and even starts a relationship with Abby’s older sister Megan. Nev’s eyes shine when he talks to Megan on the phone and he laughs and smiles like someone immersed in a new love. In a particularly hilarious but cringe-inducing scene, Nev reads their sexually explicit texts aloud and hides under his blanket to escape his brother’s voyeuristic camera lens.

Controversy also swirled around how the documentary developed. Why were they filming Nev’s new relationship from the beginning, if they didn’t suspect something?

Rel defended accusations of scripting the film by saying that chronicling is what they do. Instead of keeping a journal, technology has gotten to the point where a small, lightweight handheld camera makes filming just as easy. They documented Nev’s new relationship just as they would anything else.

Catfish was marketed as a horror flick, implying a shocking twist while at the same time trying to hide it. Thankfully, Catfish is not The Blair Witch Project, as many expected. But when the boys drive out to Megan’s farm in Michigan unannounced, the mystery and disillusion begin. Some critics evoked Hitchcock, but think the mistaken identity of Vertigo more than the blood of Psycho. The film’s powerful effect comes in realizing that real-life emotions can be more horrifying than any contrived hollywood torture chamber. (Rated PG-13)


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