Imagine a small, dingy Manhattan apartment; imagine you can’t leave; and imagine: The only contact you have with the outside world is through movies. Growing up like this, anyone could imagine that things could get pretty weird—and the Angulo family, a literal band of brothers raised in isolation by their paranoid parents, are indeed an interesting bunch. Their only outlet for creativity, undertaken as a way to basically stave off boredom, is to recreate their favorite films (like Reservoir Dogs, The Dark Knight and The Grand Budapest Hotel), crafting costumes out of cereal boxes, yoga mats and whatever other resources they can get their pale hands on.
In new documentary The Wolfpack, director Crystal Moselle has nearly unlimited access to the Angulo brothers; at one point they inform her that she is the only person who has ever been invited over to their home, and is the only guest they’ve ever had. And so, being this isolated, they’re eager to tell their story, to finally have someone to listen. For as socially awkward as they can be—at some points they come across as remarkably put together, all things considered, but other times their disaffection and ignorance of social norms shines blatantly through the celluloid—they are remarkably self-aware. As one of the ponytailed brothers remarks: They haven’t had much else to do besides think.
The Wolfpack is part spectacle—witness an odd family struggling to function—and part manifestation of a unique perspective on the world. Movies show the brothers another world; movies show them that there are more possibilities out there than they have in their small housing project apartment on the Lower East Side. Yet, movies present one version of reality, not all of it, and as these humans’ only connection to the world at large, it’s bound to warp their perspectives. It’s heartbreaking to watch these young men, at the age when they’re yearning to explore and experience everything they can, penned in by their circumstances, limited by the simple fact that their father has the only set of keys. They talk about how film, both onscreen and those they make, keeps them going, keeps them from losing their minds completely. They see themselves reflected and represented in movies, these sad, frightened, lonely kids, these outsiders, and they know that, despite their seclusion, they’re not alone as they watch the New York streets, teeming with life, through their cracked windows.
Movies even plant the idea of escape into their impressionable minds. Over the course of The Wolfpack, the audience practically watches them in the early stages of their maturity into independent adults, pushing against their overbearing father, growing increasingly brave and bold as they come of age. Exploring. This isn’t always easy, and one ill-fated spur of the moment excursion (while wearing a homemade Michael Myers mask, mind) lands one brother in an institution for a time.
As intimate as the story is, there’s a distance Moselle places between the camera (the audience) and the subjects. While a certain remove is usually what one seeks in a documentary—Moselle occasionally asks questions to keep the subjects explicating—The Wolfpack doesn’t ever delve quite as deeply as it functionally could, leaving a legion of unasked questions, and even more unanswered. Which is bound to happen in any documentary where an enigmatic subject is explored with such unfettered intimacy, but as the film beings to meander in its second act, as it struggles to find a point in these brothers’ strange struggles, one wonders if Moselle has actually asked the right questions.
When the brothers do finally break free—which should be the film’s most momentous occasion, an event that has been years in the making—it’s a break pretty much glossed over. Suddenly, the brothers are outside, awkward and unsure how to act—how did they get here? Their mother, as much a prisoner as the boys—and someone who also escapes in her own right—simply explains, “It was time.” Sad and strange, funny and touching, wholly unusual and like nothing you’ve ever seen before, The Wolfpack is both powerful and unsettling. But still, seeing the boys explore and grow, even moving out on their own, holding jobs, making their own films… the question always lingers, at a major detriment to Moselle’s story: How did they get here?
Director: Crystal Moselle
Writers: Crystal Moselle
Starring: Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo, Krsna Angulo, Mukunda Angulo, Narayana Angulo, Bhagavan Angulo, Narayana Angulo
Release Date: June 12, 2015