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Ariel and Nev Schulman and Henry Joost cast the Net in ominous 'Catfish' role

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"Catfish" directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost -- along with one of the documentary's "stars," Nev Schulman -- offers some lessons learned about Facebook and protecting one's identity online.

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2010

The beautiful "Catfish" boys arrive at the Dupont Circle restaurant about 15 minutes late, in three varieties of pretty: Henry Joost's Abercrombie boyishness, Ariel Schulman's smolder, Nev Schulman's ridiculously high cheek bones and ludicrously perfect teeth. Two of them are brothers, the third is a longtime friend. All three are responsible for one of the most talked-up documentaries to come out of Sundance this year, a film that is being billed as a "reality thriller" and has been heralded by critics as "riveting" and "unforgettable."

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It opens in Washington on Friday, but first the filmmakers must contend with naysayers. Some people say "Catfish" is not a thriller. Some say it's not even reality.

"We were there and we know full well that it's real," says Ariel, 28, who comes across as the group's artistic driving force. He and Henry "are not that smart" to have written the whole thing. "And Nev's not that good of an actor."

There is further proof to support this, but only if you are willing to accept massive spoilers.

Perhaps you have seen the trailer. Widely dissected online by the digital natives who finally have a movie for their generation, the mysterious trailer resembles a hyperlinked "Blair Witch Project." Whimsical music gives way to atonal eeriness. The camerawork is unsteady. The boys approach a darkened barn; one of them begs to leave.

What are we dealing with here? A chain-saw-wielding farmer? A jilted, bunny-boiling lover?

Henry offers a spoiler, of sorts:

"We didn't find a villain," says Henry, 27.

But there is a villain.

It is not who or what you expect it to be.

* * *

The beautiful "Catfish" boys order matching salads and wear matching self-applied mancake, left over from a photo shoot. They have brought their own recording equipment, so that footage may later be used for the DVD. Throughout lunch, they take photographs, asking the reporter's permission to appear in future works they may produce. That is unusual interview behavior, though less so for a group that lives the 21st-century philosophy that an undocumented life is not worth living.


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