They shouldn’t be this normal and eloquent and funny, the six Angulo brothers we meet in The Wolfpack, with their waist-long straight black hair and ancient Sanskrit names (Govinda, Mukunda, Visnu) and, until recently, a complete detachment from the world outside their tiny Lower East Side Manhattan apartment.
Raised by a Peruvian father and home-schooled by their American mother Susanne, the brothers, along with their little sister (who suffers from a mental condition and is rarely glimpsed in the film), spent most of their lives (they range in age from 16-24) indoors, peering out the cracked windows of their ramshackle flat at the bright lights of the big city on the other side. Some years, they were allowed to go outside a few times for short trips. Other years, they never went out at all.
With no access to computers or cell phones, and no one but each other for entertainment, the brothers developed an obsession with movies — Reservoir Dogs, The Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight, Pulp Fiction — and took to reenacting the entire films, complete with home-made costumes, after transcribing the dialogue word-for-word off VHS tapes and DVDs. A lot of this is shown via old home videos; in the present-day, the Angulos are out of their home prison and adjusting — gradually — to the real world.
The Wolfpack came about after director Crystal Moselle met one of the brothers and was so astonished by his story, she convinced the family to allow her cameras into their home. Structurally, the film is a mess. The movie was culled from over 500 hours of footage, but it’s often hard to tell whether any given interview we’re watching was shot recently or a few years ago (the newer footage stands out by the length of the boys’ hair, which several of them cut after they started leading their own lives). Too much of the story is left implied or unexplained: The brothers obviously resent their father, an abusive alcoholic who wanted to protect his family from the dangers of New York City, and even his wife is clearly frightened of him.
There isn’t a glimpse of the expected sibling rivalry or bickering you’d expect to see in a big group of brothers. These boys love each other too much to ever argue: They’re like a single organism comprised of six people, so close they can practically read each other’s minds. And despite their seclusion, the Angulos are surprisingly expressive, personable and charismatic. Only when they interact with the outside world do we see their social awkwardness (when one of them gets a job as a production assistant on a film crew, all he can think to talk about is Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad).
But why did the senior Angulo put his family through this? He’s only interviewed briefly in the film, and Moselle lets him slide without offering much of an explanation. When one of the brothers starts dating a girl – a critical turning point in the lives of adolescent boys – the movie barely shows her, even though the boy admits, as he’s preparing for a date, that he has no idea what he’s supposed to say to her. The family declines to delve into topics that would have made the story clearer (“I can’t be too candid about that,” Susanne says at one point), and it’s difficult to tell the difference between scenes that are recreations and those that were shot live.
One exception is the brothers’ first trip to the cinema (their pick: David O. Russell’s The Fighter). Emerging from the moviehouse, one of them remarks how he will remember this night for a long, long time. The same goes for The Wolfpack: Despite its considerable faults, this bizarre, fascinating story is impossible to shake off, like the expression on the face of one of the brothers as he’s talking about his father and begins getting choked up (instead of crying, he smiles convincingly, evidence of a life led having to learn to hide his emotions for fear of reprisal). Whether they are dancing exuberantly to the cheesy 1980s pop hit Tarzan Boy or celebrating Halloween in their tiny living room, these kids figured out how to not only survive, but thrive. Sometimes, with a little luck and a lot of love, joy finds a way.
With: Govinda Angulo, Naryana Angulo, Mukunda Angulo, Krisna Angulo, Jagadesh Angulo, Visnu Angulo, Susanne Angulo, Oscar Angulo, Chloe Pecorino.
Director: Crystal Moselle.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time: 82 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: Miami Beach Cinematheque, O Cinema Wynwood.