Title: The Wolfpack
Director: Crystal Moselle
Major Players: The Angulo brothers
Out Of Five: 4
It could be a fairy tale or a nightmare scenario, but either way it has Hollywood written all over it. Six brothers have been raised in their New York apartment but hardly ever venture outside of its four walls. They’re home schooled, locked in by their father and act out scenes from their favourite movies, using homemade props.
But this is for real and it’s the basis of Crystal Moselle’s documentary, The Wolfpack. We meet the six Angulo brothers on screen as they’ve reached a turning point in their collective lives, but it took Moselle two years to get to know them before the interviews started for the film. She’d met them by chance on the street in New York, on one of their first forays outside as a group, discovered their interest in film and slowly the relationship developed.
If the boys have a leader – the “wolfpack” nickname came from a friend of Moselle’s – it’s Mukunda (above, third from right) who, at 15 years of age, broke out of what he describes as the “prison” of the family apartment in 2010. To prevent anybody recognising him on the street – including his father, who was grocery shopping at the time – he wore a homemade Michael Myers mask. The inevitable happened. Somebody called the police, he was arrested and detained in a mental hospital. But, back at home several months later, he realised he felt “liberated” from his father’s rule and started leading all of his brothers into the outside world as a group.
And it causes a radical shift in the boys’ relationship with their parents. They all adore their mother, the go-between for her sons and her husband, but their feelings about their father, Oscar, are more mixed. Mukunda cuts himself off from his father, even though he continues to live in the family apartment, and the other brothers increasingly resent the older man as well. As Mukunda points out, his father thought they couldn’t do anything, but they not only proved they could, they actually did it.
Given the emotional power of the subject, director Moselle maintains an admirable detachment throughout, leaving the audience to make up its own mind about what they’re seeing. It’s almost impossible not to pass judgement on the father, who doesn’t actually speak to the camera until over half way through the film, and constantly uses his fear of drugs and gun crime to justify keeping the boys locked in at home. But there are massive holes in his arguments and that, combined with one of the boys revealing the domestic violence that goes on behind closed doors, makes you question his real motives. The potential answers are grim.
Because of the boys’ fascination with film, Moselle had plenty of home movies to draw on, footage of the six as youngsters and often in makeup reminiscent of Kiss or Black Sabbath. She combines this with her own footage, showing how they become remarkably inventive in making their own props for their re-enactments – their “guns” are so convincing, the apartment is raided by the police looking for firearms – even though they have next to no money. They transcribe scripts from their favourite films so they can act them out – Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs are at the top of the list – and by the end of the film one of the brothers has started making his own short, if primitive, film. More importantly, one of them, Govinda, has moved out of the apartment to live elsewhere. But the others remain.
The Wolfpack is an extraordinary film, and it’s all down to boys’ compelling story. Unique and fascinating, it takes you on an unmissable journey, one of wonderment and survival. Haunting, at times almost sinister, it’s a film that quietly lodges itself in your brain and lingers there, not just because of its striking images but also its claustrophobic, often shadowy atmosphere.
The Wolfpack is currently out on DVD and is reviewed on Talking Pictures on New Year’s Eve, Friday, 31 January.