I’ve watched a lot of recent media about false imprisonment, from Unbreakable to Kimmy Schmidt to Everly to Room, but The Wolfpack may have a thematic upper hand on the rest, given that it’s presented as a documentary. The low budget doc tells the story of six young, long-haired brothers explore external spaces by watching movies & re-creating their favorites in home-made cover versions similar to what you’ find in Be Kind Rewind or (*shudder*) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Except that these are real recreations with a real life purpose . . . supposedly. Part of what makes The Wolfpack an interesting, but frustrating experience is that the story is just beyond the reach of believability, but it’s difficult to tell what, if anything, has been embellished for dramatic effect.
What is undeniable is that the story is fascinating. The six Angulo brothers & their shielded-from-the-camera sister are said to have been raised in insular, tribe-like environment by their parents, with their father serving as a tyrannical cult-leader type that keeps them under lock & key. Homeschooled & taught to avoid contact with strangers, they report that they’d sometimes go outside their apartment “nine times a year, sometimes once . . .” It’s no wonder, then, that they found cinema to be such a welcome escape. As the eldest, most defiant Angulo brother puts it, “If I didn’t have movies,life would be pretty boring and there would be no point to go on.” It’s slightly less clear why their father would pressure them to pursue creative expression through film & music, although vague answers are directly provided. I get a general sense from the film that even he isn’t quite sure of why he oppresses his family, outside of an oversized sense of hubris that borders on mental illness.
The vagueness & just-short-of-authenticity narrative of The Wolfpack rests more on the shoulders of first-time documentarian Crystal Moselle than it does on her subjects. For starters, Moselle doesn’t provide nearly enough insight into the mechanics of the brothers’ creative process. There’s a couple details provided, like the way they use closed captions to transcribe their scripts or how they use cereal boxes & yoga mats to create homemade Batman costumes. The film does not provide, however, a sense of scope. For instance, are the Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight, and The Nightmare Before Christmas remakes shown in the film a majority of their catalog or are their other home movies not shown to the audience? I felt that a lot of the circumstances of their confinement were also a little thin as presented, with a lot of the tone established through home movies paired with dramatic music.
I’m not exactly saying that The Wolfpack is poorly made, just that it doesn’t feel fully fleshed out considering the very distinct nature of its subject. It almost would’ve been more worthwhile to have the boys tell their own story through a dramatic reenactment, à la The Act of Killing, as that would’ve incorporated the film’s more striking imagery for the full length of the feature without wearing the limited details of its story thin. Either way, the story is oddly fascinating as presented & it’ll be interesting to see how the brother’s lives will develop now that they’ve been exposed to the world outside their father’s apartment. They certainly have a a well-developed cinematic eye, something that’s put to extraordinary use in the film’s final minutes when they’re working on a wholly original project. I’m not sure that they need the limelight quite as much as they need therapy, but I’m excited to see what art they bring the world now that they’re free from whatever exact trauma they no doubt suffered.