Crystal Moselle’s documentary The Wolfpack focuses on the seven teenage siblings of the Angulo family (though it’s primarily about the six brothers and less so the sole sister), who were all home-schooled in New York City and kept apart from the outside world for most of their young lives. Their father Oscar held the only key to the family’s apartment, and for many years he stopped the children and his wife Susanne from coming-and-going as they pleased; one of the brothers wistfully points out during an interview here that in some years the kids didn’t get to go outside at all. It’s understandable, then, that their development has been stunted to a certain degree, and part of the film shows the brothers tentatively getting to grips with the outside world, now that they’re allowed to leave the building. Somewhat disappointingly Moselle’s film doesn’t specifically reveal why the situation has changed, although we do discover that the eldest brother Mukunda disobeyed his father in 2010 and explored the local neighbourhood in a mask before being arrested by police, which seems to have been the catalyst for change.
Yet this is also a film about films, to a certain extent. During their years of confinement the Angulo children developed an enyclopaedic love of cinema, and home movie footage incorporated here suggests that a certain amount of creativity was encouraged within the family’s Lower East Side apartment; we see the kids studying movies such as The Dark Knight, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction et al, before creating their own screenplays, props and costumes, and enacting their own versions of these perennial favourites. The short clips are oddly fascinating, encompassing shootouts in the hall and car chases in the bedroom, with great attention paid to detail; the re-staging of the scene in Pulp Fiction in which Jules and Vincent clear blood and bits of brains from their car shows how seriously the boys were about their joint hobby, and there are some wonderful DIY elements to the productions, such as Mukunda’s Batman costume, which looks the part even though it’s made out of painted cereal boxes and torn-up yoga mats.
Understandably cinema is presented as a means of escape, though in actual fact the films also become indicative of the kids’ captivity, as they’ve all been watched indoors on a TV screen, and it looks like DVDs have been used as a means to keep the boys docile; this only really hits you when you see them going to an actual theatre for the first time, filled with excitement. Unfortunately the documentary doesn’t really offer much in the way of insight beyond this. The filmmaker has been criticised for not pushing the father of the family hard enough during her interviews, and as a result Oscar Angulo isn’t taken to task for his controlling behaviour or the physical abuse endured by Susanne (this is mentioned only briefly), but in Moselle’s defence it’s possible her access would have been revoked had she taken a more obtrusive, aggressive presence. You’re left with a fascinating film that is almost totally reliant on its story, which is fine, but I can see why people experienced a degree of frustration as a result of any passivity. It may be a simplistic way of looking at things, but the documentarian’s first job is to report back on what she has found, and she has done.
Directed by: Crystal Moselle.
Starring: Bhagavan Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo, Krsna Angulo, Mukunda Angulo, Narayana Angulo.
Cinematography: Crystal Moselle.
Editing: Enat Sidi.
Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans, Aska Matsumiya.
Running Time: 89.