By Leslie Byron Pitt
The more you consider the bizarre tale of The Wolfpack, that harder it is for you to bend your head fully round it. The documentary about seven siblings, homeschooled and confined in their Lower East Side Manhattan apartment, away from the waking world by their father, evokes grim thoughts of the deplorable Josef Fritzl. This tale not as grievous as the acts of Fritzl, yet it does ponder a certain amount of concern. We observe Angulo brothers whose only window to the outside world is the exaggerated world of fictional movies, which the six brothers duplicate and re-enact with eerie accuracy and timing.
There is a certain morbid humor that comes from watching the brothers interact like a Rolodex of pop culture. There certainly were some guffaws in the screening room, as these gangly teens, sprout lines, quotes and words lifted from The Dark Knight or early Tarantino. It’s difficult not to titter nervously at the boys, now are finally allowed to interact with the waking world after a jail break from the 15-year-old, Mukunda, strutting down New York, dressed in dark glasses and suits. The look may be based on Reservoir Dogs, yet it conjures vampire-like imagery. They wander the Manhattan landscape, like foreign beings with awkward and curious movements. Such moments move quietly from humorously romantic to sober and tragic as a sense of loss grows palpable, with many simple childhood experiences no longer available to them.
Director Crystal Moselle, directs The Wolfpack with an immediate, jittery style and evokes themes explored within the likes of films such as Dogtooth (2012), Gummo (1997) and Jesus Camp (2008). The reasoning behind the children’s entrapment is through their father; Oscar, who rules over the household with a stranglehold of paranoid anxiety. He’s hardly witnessed throughout the film, yet his influence looms large over the piece. When we finally observe him briefly, his words provide lip service of empathy (he kept them in to keep corrupt influences out), but the brief moments in which we see him wearing headgear which make him look like a grand dictator, portray more disturbing messages. Their mother, Susanne is kind and warm yet helpless to Oscar’s subtle tyranny. The tension is palpable.
Despite this extraordinary story and near inconvincible elements, as a film The Wolfpack seems to hold its punches. The film’s sluggish pace suggests padding, while the conflict never feels as tight as you’d figure in a film such as this. Moselle’s film is fascinating in its own special way, but never truly throws us in the same way Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans (2003) does. The idea that such a family can survive, unaffected by the murkiness of the outside world is astonishing (how much these kids have missed is never deeply explored), but the film never lifts the lid fully about such a dysfunctional family can function. The film’s finale is rightfully optimistic, yet the scars that remain seem muted and softened. In reality, this is good for the Angulo family as their closet is slowly being cleared. As a viewer, one shouldn’t be surprised at feeling a little jaded.
Wolfpack is AVAILABLE NOW TO DOWNLOAD, AND IS OUT ON DVD & BLU-RAY ON 28th DEC.