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THE WOLFPACK (2015) review

July 9, 2015

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produced by: Izabella Tzenkova, Crystal Moselle, Hunter Gray & Alex Orlovsky
directed by: Crystal Moselle
rating: R (for language)
runtime: 89 min.
U.S. release date: January 25, 2015 (Sundance) and June 19, 2015 (limited)

 

Somewhere between fact and fiction lies “The Wolfpack”, a documentary about six homeschooled brothers directed by Crystal Moselle. Back in 2010, the director (fresh out of New York’s School of Visual Art) happened upon this pack of long-haired siblings as they walked in Manhatten dressed like the walked right out of “Reservoir Dogs”. Moselle struck up a rapport with the Angulo Brothers (ranging from 11 to 18 years-old) and eventually learned that their parents had confined them to their claustrophobic Lower East Side apartment for 14 years. Their lives were compelling enough to inspire Moselle to make this doc. None of that information is divulged in Moselle’s frustrating film. I saved you the trouble and looked that up online since  I became more and more horrified as I watched their story unfold.

The young men raised in the Angulo household were essentially imprisoned their entire lives, until one of them, Mukunda, at the edge of 15 started sneaking out. Their father, a Peruvian immigrant/Hare Krishna follower, had the only key and refused to let Mukunda’s brothers –  Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Krisna, and Jagadesh –  and their younger sister Visnu (Moselle sheds little light on her, but she appears to have Downe Syndrome), as well as their American hippie mother (his wife), from leaving their home because of the influences of society.

 

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Their only exposure to the outside world came from their VHS and DVD collection of Hollywood Movies that they’d devour and recreate using homemade props, detailed costumes and handwritten scripts.  The brothers would lose themselves in their performances of “Pulp Fiction” and “The Dark Knight Rises”, with the characters they portray playing a huge impact on how they view life.

When Mukunda breaks free in January 2010, he walks the streets dressed up as Michael Myers from the “Halloween” movies and is inevitably picked up by police when people freak out (obviously he wasn’t in Times Square).  This leads to the police visiting the Angulo home, which leads to mandatory counseling for Mukunda and his brothers.  It’s at this point in the doc where Moselle starts to focus a bit more on the homeschooling mother and the distant alcoholic father, how they met and decided on keeping their children in a cramped apartment. Up until now, Moselle shows the brothers acting out scenes from the movies they’ve studied along with Mukunda and his brothers sharing how they feel about their strict upbringing.  The more we learn though, the more it’s clear that Moselle would rather observe than investigate.

What’s told in “The Wolfpack” feels  like a dramatic Dateline NBC recreation detailing a tragedy we see reported in real life all the time. Family abuse and domestic cruelty is commonplace in today’s 24/7 news outlets. Check your Facebook or Twitter feed and your bound to find a boy being tied to a tree while his single mother  goes off to work or just Google “young girl left in cage” and a list of nationwide depravity is on display. It doesn’t take much to remind us how low humanity can so easily sink, which is why the tone and stance of Moselle’s film bothered me.  

There’s just too much unexplained and unanswered here, and what is shown is difficult to believe as fact, especially Mukunda’s first steps out – why would Moselle’s cameras be there for that and/or was all this recreated for the doc? The mother, who is not entirely on board with her husband’s decision to hoard their children for an undetermined amount of time, clearly has her own issues (mentally or emotionally) – and who wouldn’t in such a situation?

 

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Discovering these brothers in this doc is both fascinating and maddening. It makes you think about the hidden lives of strangers we encounter and how people wind up living certain ways. That is, when the questions aren’t piling up as this skewed narrative continues. The Angulo’s father refuses to work and somehow the family make ends meet by teaching the boys, yet there is never any explanation for how the materials were purchased, especially the cameras they use. There’s mention of the family getting clothes and equipment at resale shops, but I find it hard to believe that’s where they’ve received all that they have.

Also concerning is the fact that mental illness or abuse  is never addressed. Although the boys go through their round of (off-screen) counseling once the police find them, Moselle doesn’t bother digging deeper there. Instead, we go back to the movie recreations the boys entertain themselves with, back to the life they know. Moselle also provides footage of the family in the past – in their apartment of course – but, it’s unclear who had filmed what we see (since all the kids are in front of the camera), which again, leaves viewers either shrugging or throwing their hands up in the air.

Moselle’s audience will no doubt be perturbed that she seemingly has no problem observing instead of reporting, but the focus is supposedly about newfound independence and liberation. This is made clear when we see the entire family made a day trip outing near the end of the film. Indeed, it feels like “The Wolfpack” is designed to provide publicity for the brothers. The film loves have already visited the Criterion archives. Next stop, Jimmy Fallon?

One of the lingering questions you’re left with after watching “The Wolfpack” is where these brothers go from here. Which leads to further questions: What kind of life do they lead now? Are social services now involved? Is their sister getting any help or she locked up as well? Moselle’s documentary is a reminder of how people slip through the cracks of society, either by choice or force, unfortunately it feels like the equivalent of recording child abuse with your smartphone and then sharing it with everyone you know.

 

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RATING: ** 

 

 

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