A coming of age story like no other, The Wolfpack (directed by Crystal Moselle) is a new documentary about the sheltered life of the Angulo family from the lower east side of Manhattan. A group of remarkably sharp and talented “tribe” of six young boys (and one seen but never heard daughter), they were raised and home schooled in the family’s small and stingy apartment, their controlling father restricting any possible contact with the ‘real’ world.
In a broad sense, The Wolfpack is a film about making films. The Angulo brothers watch films all day every day, and recreate their favourites using impressive homemade props and costumes (Batman’s suit from The Dark Knight made from a yoga mat and cereal boxes was a stroke of genius). In their own words, they do this because it makes them feel like they’re truly living, that they’re not just prisoners with little hope of freedom. This is not, however, a tale of blame and remorse; it’s about the sibling’s realisation of their identities, their passion for watching and making movies, and belief in their lives outside of their father’s control.
At times it is uncomfortable to watch because it’s so easy to forget this isn’t a fictional drama story. They admit the film crew are the first people to ever be invited into their home. Domineering father Oscar believes he is enlightened, and refuses to work “out there” as his way of rebelling. The eldest brother was sent to a psychiatric hospital when he was 15 because he dared to go out alone in public wearing a Michael Myers mask. But the mother, Susanne, is perhaps the toughest of them all. To talk frankly, albeit awkwardly, about her untouched dreams and her marriage to a man that imposes such intense rules takes an admirable amount of courage, and although you have to question her loyalty to Oscar, the overwhelming respect her children have for her is really quite moving given their oppressive circumstances.
Incorporating personal footage into the film anchors its intimacy, and because the family contribute so freely and honestly it doesn’t feel like an intrusion of their privacy. Like all good documentaries the story is compelling, but it’s the little details that really capture you: at the start of the film, the boys’ hair is so long that they can tuck it into the back of their trousers, their outstanding recreation of Pulp Fiction, the film crew joining them on their first trip to the cinema to see The Fighter and the closing scene of them blissfully playing among some apple trees.