The Sundance darling The Wolfpack raises far more questions than it answers, and that’s why the documentary is so compelling and, at the same time, somewhat frustrating. Filmmaker Crystal Moselle’s focus is solely on her subjects, six brothers who’ve spent pretty much their entire lives locked up in a Manhattan apartment by their domineering, mysterious father. Growing up, the Angulo boys had little to no contact with the outside world, but they had thousands of DVDs, which they watched, studied and re-enacted scenes from with props made out of cereal boxes and yoga mats. Watching their recreations of The Dark Knight and Reservoir Dogs is mesmerizing, lending Moselle’s film the distinction of being absolutely unforgettable.
In the documentary, which was made over a number of years, the brothers range in age from their early teens to early 20s. They all have dark, waist-length hair, high cheekbones and Sanskrit names, such as Bhagavan, Govinda and Narayana. Early on, we watch clips of the boys’ home movies and recreations of beloved films, meanwhile the older ones talk earnestly about how cinema, for them, is more than just an escape. It’s what makes them feel alive, and, as we see, it’s also their connection to the greater culture. Yet, that’s somewhat ironic, considering their father, Oscar Angulo, kept them inside so as to protect them from that very culture, which he despises. The man, who doesn’t work for so-called philosophical reasons, is only seen in the film briefly, almost in passing, sort of like the ghost of a parent. By the end, the man is usually just drinking in cramped solitude as his boys begin to defy their upbringing and step out into Babylon.
On the surface, that’s the story this documentary tells: how six brothers escaped. Yet, so many questions linger. For instance, how exactly did the filmmaker gain access to this family? What’s the story of their older, seemingly special needs sister? What were the conditions for filming? Why did Oscar agree to let her in? And did child protection officials ever take a look at what was going on in that apartment? I’d be interesting to see a follow-up version to this cinema vérité with straight-up, investigative journalism. That would probably be more satisfying, at some basic factual level, but it likely wouldn’t have captured such an incredible portrait of the brothers. They appear creative, kind, curious, and, at the end of the film, excited to cut their teeth in a much larger world. We’re rooting for them.
The Wolfpack is playing at the Lagoon Cinema.