It’s so, so difficult to categorise this film. Documentary? Mockumentary? Faux-documentary? No one knows. But what else is it? Amazing.
Let me try and describe to you the effect this film has on people watching it in the cinema. At first, you’ve got your trailers, right? People chatting, taking the whizz out of each other and generally being rather loud. Soon enough, the lights dim, and people finally realise they’re watching a movie. Of course, there’s still popcorn crunching, whispering, kissing noises and so on. Not in this film.
The utter silence is probably caused by what is, whether it’s real or not, one of the best films I have seen this year, and possibly in the last ten. Why? Because whether or not you’re into the whole conspiracy shindig, it’s hard not to find this film funny, chilling, downright scary and heartbreaking all in the space of slightly under 90 minutes.
Nev Schulman is a photographer, and he works in an office with his brother Ariel, and his friend Henry Joost, both of them film makers. One day, an eight-year-old girl called Abby starts sending him paintings of his photographs in the post. To New York. From Michigan. Normal, right? Then he begins to speak to her family as well as young Abby, either on his mobile, or, crucially, through Facebook.
Eventually he comes across Abby’s older sister, Megan. A little predictably, he goes for the older sister, and she for him. They become romantically involved over the phone and through the social networking site, and eventually start drawing up plans to meet each other.
So far, so normal long-distance relationship. Where it gets a little unnerving is when he realises that she may not be quite who she seems. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d wager most Brits would give their phones a quick number-update, block the person to high hell and move on. However, he’s a gung-ho road-trip-hungry American, so off the three of them go to Michigan to track down the family he’s beginning to question the existence of.
The result isn’t something I will share with anyone who hasn’t seen the film. All I can say is, it’s deeply haunting, and it profoundly questions the uses social networks can be put to, and the effect that can have on gullible people who are willing to buy plane tickets to go see what is, in essence, a voice and a series of image files.
Nev and his two cohorts are loveable, real people, and whether it’s acting (in which case, Oscars, please) or genuine, you find yourself very taken with him, and astonished at his frank, brave attitude towards the whole affair. His brother and his mate show more than a little fear at times, but the possibility of meeting someone he’s so taken with tends to override his, well, his common sense, really.
The film is shot on a variety of cameras, often switching between standard and high-definition, which is actually a very interesting way to compare the old to the new a lot more easily than pixellated YouTube comparison videos with epic buffering times. Its (possible faux) amateurish cinematography and the brief spurts of organised filming communicate the two filmmaker’s backgrounds extremely well. They execute the film’s narrative remarkably clearly on their shoe-string budget, especially in comparison to other camcorder films, like Cloverfield with it’s ample use of CGI.
Whether you’ve had your Facebook hit from The Social Network or not, here at TFR Towers the film couldn’t be any more lauded. Go and watch it, and then spend the rest of the run up to Christmas wondering whether or not what you just saw was real. You probably won’t figure it out, but whether or not that’s actually the case, you’ll have seen indie film-making at its absolute best.