At last week's press screening of Catfish, the utterly charming, almost child-like filmmakers, (who are also the film's subjects) asked the audience to protect a secret reveal that the marketing promises is nothing short of terrifying. When the film opens today, it will be interesting to see if audiences think the secret was worth keeping.
To hear the trailer tell it, Nev, a naive, sweetheart of a guy begins to fall for Megan, a mysterious girl from the internet that he's never met or seen (other than photos), only spoken to. He is persuaded by his partner-in-darling-ness brother Rel, and best friend Henry, a bona fide heart-throb, to let them chronicle the romance's unfolding. The trailer tells us that instead, what unfolds is a mystery that, even as it gets more frightening, continues to captivate the three subjects, propelling them towards whatever's next.
The marketing conjures the fictional Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, but the trailer pinky swears that the events are real. What makes the trailer, and the film's set up feel inauthentic initially, is that the subjects are so adorable, hopeful and considerate, they seem like prototypical movie-plot suckers drawn in by a pretty girl's guiles, even as she seems more and more like a figment. At one point Nev gets so embarrassed reading aloud a series of sexy text exchanges between him and resident apparition Megan, that he hides under the covers and giggles. It's hard to believe in this cynical, sex-saturated climate, people blush anymore, but when the boys find what they were looking for, or, in fact, quite the opposite, there is no question that the film is real.
It is here that we actually rely on their once hard-to-fathom decency to carefully guide us through the reveal, and makes it easier to forgive what some might find manipulative marketing. They are able to turn a study in duplicity (both Megan's, and their own marketing) into grace. At the Q&A after last week's screening, they were raw and honest about their gullibility, while still defending the way the film was posited, and it was impossible to get mad at them; they experienced the build-up and surprising turn just as we did.
This turn, and it is a turn, calls to mind the story of fraudulent author JT Leroy, or the events on which the film Armisted Maupin's The Night Listener was based, but all that will come out in due time. If you go hoping to see the terror ride that the trailer promises, you might feel a little thrown, or even duped. Maybe go to learn the secret, and stay for the cute boys.