Every once in a while a tale from real life springs up seemingly out of nowhere, offering the kind of rich, larger-than-life content most documentary makers could only dream about chancing upon. The Wolfpack opens with a sweded version of Reservoir Dogs being recreated by a group of similar- looking teenagers, all of whom are giving surprisingly committed performances. In fact, you could be forgiven in thinking that you’ve stumbled into the middle of a team of real-life counterparts to Wes Anderson’s precocious central character from Rushmore. The reality is slightly removed from the whimsy those scenes project, however.
The performers, the Angulo brothers are who, from an early age, were almost exclusively confined to a cramped threadbare Lower East Side New York apartment by their controlling father and home-schooled by a loving, if ill-advised, mother. Crystal Moselle’s fascinating debut works as a non-fiction companion piece to Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2009 darkly comic social satire Dogtooth. Like the imprisoned teen siblings in that film, cinema was largely what ignited the imagination of the Angulos. The isolation and confinement imposed upon the boys manifested itself in an unbridled display of imagination and creativity, with the brothers staging homages to their favourite films, not to mention crafting an array of props and costumes.
One particularly humorous moment The Wolfpack comes from seeing images of the eldest brother and mouthpiece of the pack, Mukunda, wondering the neighbourhood decked out in homemade Dark Knight armour, having escaped from the family home. Overall though, the tone is quite sombre as Moselle digs deep into the wealth of fuzzy home video footage which reveals the fantasy world the brother made for themselves. Given their circumstances, they’re a largely affable bunch, and this is none more evident in a section where the makers are filming the pack in public during a trip to the Coney Island beach. Their stilted social skills come over as endearing rather than disturbing.
Moselle shrewdly keeps the boy’s father (and ostensible villain of the piece) at arm’s length for a good portion of The Wolfpack, but rather than demonising him, he instead comes over as deeply misguided rather than an evil authoritarian figure. While the director struggles a little when trying to tie up the film and reach some kind of satisfactory closure, that she ends with the boys each being awarded single starring credits offers perhaps their ultimate in wish-fulfilment for her subjects and speaks of the many forms of salvation which cinema can offer.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76