I saw the nonfiction film CATFISH last week and it was the first time in a good long while that when the lights came up, I looked around … and I said out loud, “I loved it.”

Cinema, cinema, cinema. AO Scott said the movie looks like crap and is ethically suspect, and guess what? He’s wrong. New York Magazine said it’s a scam and guess what? Who cares! It’s an incredibly compelling story, real or imagined. And isn’t that the point? Our real and our imagined selves, due to media saturation, are getting closer and closer together; they’re overlapping, so that lives are part performance, part “time off” (that’s the “real”). We perform for Facebook; we perform because someone in the room just turned on a video camera. We perform. That’s not news; we humans have been doing this forever. It’s simply more prominent now that social networking provides the 24 hour stage. THAT’s the point, not where the film falls on the scale of “real.” But I digress.

Directors Henry Joost and Rel Schulman describe their film as a “reality thriller,” and thrilling it is. Rel’s brother Nev is the unwilling protagonist who complains to his brother, on camera, to please stop filming him. Over the course of a year, Nev becomes embroiled in an Facebook relationship that leads to more Facebook relationships that lead to a very steamy virtual relationship that leads to… a lot of questions. When small oddities in the correspondence suddenly evolve into massive red flags, the team of three get on the road to investigate the scenario in person.

If you can imagine, things are not what they had once seemed, but what you may not imagine is how scary the investigation truly is. I looked over at my friend during the screening and said, “I’m scared” — and she countered with “My entire body has been tense for an hour.” It’s truly thrilling. What’s not thrilling – boring, actually – is the conversational obsession with veracity. Even if these boys only headed to the scene of the crime (rural Michigan, in this case) to make a movie, well, so what? If movie-making can compel these sorts of adventures on a more regular basis, I’m all for it. What emerges is a portrait of the human need for connection so strange and wonderful that I left not caring if the cast was straight out of Juilliard. It made me think and feel about my own performative relationships, the nature of desire, class and culture – and to get to these themes through a little ol documentary? Bravo.

The trailer is here: