The Angulo family live in New York City, a mother, father and seven children. The father, Oscar, was somewhat idiosyncratic to say the least in that he originally hailed from South America and had his own ideas about how children should be brought up which in essence were to keep them away from any potential harm. Living in a poor, subsidised area of the city meant the crime rate was higher than other places, so Oscar determined to see to it that his kids stayed inside as much as possible, only venturing outside when it was really necessary – according to him. This meant some years they only went out nine times, and other years they went out a total of once, or not at all, leaving them to get all their experience of the world from movies…
The uneasy relationship between documentary and what could charitably be called the eccentric continued with director Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack, they being the six brothers who took up most of the screen time (their mentally disadvantaged older sister was only seen briefly). We are introduced to them recreating their favourite scenes from Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough Reservoir Dogs, complete with the suits and homemade prop guns for that extra touch of authenticity, and are given to understand this pattern of watching the films closely then re-enacting them as if they were human DVD players was how they entertained themselves for years, which under different circumstances could have been amusing.
Remembering the Sweded movies from Michel Gondry’s cult effort Be Kind Rewind, this was much the same thing, but Moselle didn’t fill the hour and a half with those, for there was a more serious issue at the heart of the film, which was whether the Angulo children were being abused simply by making sure they had minimal contact with the outside world. If you shared Oscar’s ideas that the region he lived in was no place to expose a child to, then you might have sympathised before watching this, and certainly there are parents, often religious, who shelter their kids to an extreme degree from any kind of experience that may have emotionally affected them, never mind physically affected them.
Yet Oscar’s religious beliefs were some hippy-dippy mysticism that obviously did not preclude him bringing home many varieties of video cassette and later DVD, allowing his kids to watch very violent material, which it is implied he built up an idea of what society was like in their minds, basically violent and hostile. To cope with this they would play out these scenes when they were not being home schooled by their beloved (but weak-willed) mother Susanne, but eventually the curiosity about what was beyond their tiny apartment grew too strong and one of their number dressed up as Halloween slasher villain Michael Myers and – no, he didn’t go on a killing spree, he simply wandered the streets in disguise until he was picked up by wary police who understandably wondered what the Hell he was doing.
Oddly, though by the point the documentary is drawing to a close we can see they are able to branch out a little more and gain their freedom, none of them come across as completely stunted, sure all they can talk about is movies and TV (and their father, who they have no great affection for by then) but you are given hope they could get by if offered the right opportunities, so there was a happier ending than you might expect, the occasional awkward moment aside. If anything, this was proof prolonged exposure to violent films was not going to send you round the bend, though it might make you more fearful of getting by in life if that was your only experience of it. However, the Angulos were not kept isolated to that extent, for there was always interaction with one another, and that companionship appears to have been a great help to sustaining some tough times that ironically would not have happened if Oscar had been more liberal with his parenting. As a film, it was not as sensational or tabloid-y as you might expect, Moselle was respectful, though among other questions discerning which brother was which might be an issue.