As the story goes, director Crystal Moselle met the “wolfpack,” otherwise known as the Angulo brothers, by chance in Manhattan in 2010. Struck by their Reservoir Dogs-esque black Ray-Ban sunglasses, leather coats, and waist-length hair, she became friends with the group and soon uncovered the kind of story documentary filmmakers dream about. The end result of her time with the family, The Wolfpack, is a true original. Few tales are as bizarre as this one while maintaining any modicum of credibility. While plenty of questions permeate the air as the end credits roll, The Wolfpack is a compulsively watchable, borderline hypnotic experience.
After befriending the group, Moselle discovers that the boys (there is also a sister, barely featured in the film) had essentially been confined to a lower Manhattan apartment for most of their lives. Their domineering father, Oscar, doesn’t believe in public education and constantly fears for the kids’ safety in the big city. When not being homeschooled by their mother, the boys spend just about all of their time watching and re-enacting their favorite movies. One even goes as far as transcribing and re-typing entire screenplays. The movies are their gateway to the outside world.
Like most teenagers, one of the brothers, Mukunda, eventually defies his father’s orders and ventures outside. That’s when Moselle’s already strange story takes some dramatic turns. Moselle alternates abruptly between rough home video shot by the family and her own footage of the boys discovering what is foreign terrain to them. The effect can be dizzying, making it difficult to accurately track the timeline of events. The hard rock/metal score adds an extra dimension of surreality and make some sequences effectively uneasy.
Questions abound, however, and more than are addressed in the brief 90 minute runtime. How this family of nine survives, even in a small apartment in the lower Manhattan housing projects, with a father that doesn’t work (he outright refuses to, citing his belief that American workers are slaves to corporations and that’s no way to live life) and what must be paltry government checks for homeschooling is never fully addressed. At one point a story is told about how a S.W.A.T. team infiltrated the apartment on a tip of illegal arms in the residence. All that was found were the toy guns the boys had made for re-enacting their favorite movies. This is glossed over when it truly piques interest.
The closing moments of The Wolfpack are touching and offer a lot of hope. The Angulo brothers were raised under the most bizarre circumstances anyone can imagine. Their chances for a normal adult life seemed minute, but all are engaging, thoughtful interviews. Their minds are overflowing with creative ideas and a sense of purpose. Moselle stumbled onto the story of a lifetime by befriending the Angulos. Her film is compelling, respectful, and never, ever, boring.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Length: 90 Minutes
Rating: R for language.
Theatrical Release: January 25, 2015 (Sundance Film Festival) / June 12, 2015 (NY)
Directed by: Crystal Moselle
Cast: Bhagavan Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo, Krsna Angulo, Mukunda Angulo