The Wolfpack, documentary, rated R, Center for Contemporary Arts, 2.5 chiles
The Wolfpack is a frustrating documentary about a fascinating subject that will probably serve as a psychological case study for years to come. The Angulo children — six boys and one girl — have lived most of their lives as shut-ins, sheltered from the world outside in a four-bedroom apartment on New York’s Lower East Side. They rarely venture outside, and one year, they never left the apartment at all. Their father, Oscar, a Peruvian-born Hare Krishna acolyte, is abusive and possibly delusional. He’s instilled his own fears of contamination from the outside world into his children. Their mother, Susanne, appears cowed and beaten, as though the vitality has been drained from her. But the children, particularly the six boys (Visnu, their disabled sister, is largely ignored), seem full of curiosity and exuberance. They’ve responded to their forced isolation by creating a culture all their own, based on the more than 5,000 movies they have seen stuck at home behind locked doors. Movies are their world and their only reference point for life outside the apartment as they tentatively unravel the psychological bonds holding them captive, and eventually venture onto the streets of New York City.
The boys — Krsna, Jagadisa, Mukunda, Bhagavan, Narayana, and Govinda — have christened themselves “the Wolfpack.” They dress alike in black suits, ties, and dark sunglasses in imitation of the characters in Quentin Tarantino’s film Reservoir Dogs. They rewrite film scripts word for word, make elaborate costumes and props out of cereal boxes, and re-enact entire movies in their living room from beginning to end. This playacting, and being home-schooled by their mother, is their life. Their creative response to isolation is the most developed aspect of director Crystal Moselle’s feature. The pack’s reality begins to change when Mukunda, at the age of fifteen, escapes, ending up in a hospital for a psychological evaluation. With Mukunda’s breach of boundaries, a seed is sown. Soon, the six brothers, all in their teens, develop a collective will in defiance of their father. When they attend a movie in a theater for the first time, they’re naively delighted that the cost helps pay the actors. The sand at Coney Island reminds them of the desert in Lawrence of Arabia.
Statements made by the children regarding their father suggest a more severe form of abuse, but Moselle never digs deep enough. The younger children are mostly voiceless, while Mukunda and Bhagavan provide the most insight. Still, too much is left unsaid. Oscar is interviewed, but remains an abstract figure whose motivations are never fully understood. There is a suggestion that the boys’ new liberation leads to freedom for Oscar and Susanne, too. It’s an emotional film and an undeniably intriguing family drama, but the visceral pain emanating from the Angulos is mostly unexplored, making it all feel a little thin. — Michael Abatemarco
Coney Island babies: the Angulo brothers