The Wolfpack

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a Manhattan housing project. All they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively (and recreate meticulously). Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning world.
"There is a sense of the freshness of freedom but this a film that mainly deals in big emotions as though worried about getting down to specifics."

People talk about life imitating art. But what if the only life you knew about - outside of your family home - was art? In the case of the children in the Angulo family - six boys and a girl, aged 16 to 24 - that's more or less what happened, with the artform in question being film. They were born to Peruvian wannabe music star Oscar and hippie Susanne, who met him in 1989 when she was looking for a guide to Machu Pichu.

Fast-forward to 1995 and the growing family had moved to New York where, ostensibly with a view to protecting them from the big bad world, they were kept isolated, home-schooled and only allowed to venture out, under strict supervision, a handful of times a year or less. If the children's 'real' outward-looking lives were restricted, however, their creative ones were nurtured. They were encouraged to embrace their artistic side by their mum and permitted to watch as many films as they wanted - how these films came into the house remains, like so many aspects of the boys' lives - a mystery. But as a result, the brothers threw themselves into the world of the films, studiously transcribing the scripts - Reservoir Dogs and The Dark Knight were particular favourites - before creating 'Sweded' versions of them, re-enactments with homespun props.

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Flying in the face of the frequently peddled idea about watching on-screen violence, the boys are gentle and, for kids who have barely ventured out, surprisingly well-rounded souls, who, eventually decide to stage a rebellion. That the first son to break out of the family home does so as a 'character', gives an insight into the psychological impact their isolation has had on them.

First-time director Crystal Moselle - who the press notes inform us met the boys by chance just as they first started to defy their dad en masse, a fact which the film itself is crying out for - has certainly stumbled on one hell of a story and these young people are so personable that we are quickly warm to them and long to know more about their lives.

But inexperience shows in the way Moselle presents them. There's a scattered feeling to the action, as though once she had plunged herself into the situation, she didn't quite know what to do with it and she lacks the steely curiosity of more experienced documentarians. In the hands of someone like Kim Longinotto - whose excellent Dreamcatcher premiered at Sundance alongside The Wolfpack - there would mostly likely have been an incisiveness to the questioning. But even though Oscar seems happy to speak to her, we feel Moselle's reluctance to dig around in his motivations. There are hints and insinuations about what his drivers may have been but the director seems determined to keep everyone on-side. This means there is also a frustrating lack of external context - she speaks to nobody outside of the house.

The boys' reactions to their new-found experiences out in the real world are also presented in a limited fashion - there is a sense of the freshness of freedom but this a film that mainly deals in big emotions as though worried about getting down to specifics. There's a large story here, certainly, but this is the abridged version. There are hints that, at some point, Mukunda - always the leader of the pack when it comes to his brothers - might well have the talent to show us the bigger picture in the future.

Reviewed on: 20 Aug 2015
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Story of a band of brothers who grew up in social isolation.
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Director: Crystal Moselle

Starring: Bhagavan Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo, Narayana Angulo, Krsna Angulo, Mukunda Angulo

Year: 2015

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US


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