Saturday, 19 September 2015

Review: The Wolfpack

World of Blackout Film Review

The Wolfpack Poster

The Wolfpack
Cert: 15 / 90 mins / Dir. Crystal Moselle / Trailer
WoB Rating: 5/7

The only thing which takes the shine off a Private Screening (ie, a one where you're the only actual customer) is when the film begins twelve minutes later than advertised because the projection operator couldn't be bothered to show up, either. Ah, no matter.

Crystal Moselle's documentary, The Wolfpack follows New York's Angulo brothers, Mukunda, Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Krisna, and Jagadesh (as well as their little sister, Visnu), who have been effectively imprisoned in their lower-East-side apartment for their whole lives by a domineering father and complicit (albeit also similarly incarcerated) mother.

The Peruvian, Oscar, met his mid-Western wife Susanne when she was on a hiking holiday; they married and moved to the Big Apple with hazy notions of success and happiness. But 23 years and seven children later (Oscar "had plans for ten"), the film finds them living in borderline squalor, with the quietly overbearing father refusing to work, but not letting his family out of the home, other than heavily supervised doctor's appointments, etc. He uses the money his wife claims from the government for homeschooling their children to go food-shopping for the family, and to buy an encyclopaedic collection of movies for the boys*1, which serve as their window to the larger world (although they don't have the internet in the apartment, nothing is said about regular TV, news etc).

Obsessed with cult and blockbuster films alike, the six brothers also script and film their own reenactments of their favourites, complete with meticulously inventive props and costumes, as well as uncannily intoned mimicry of the actors' vocal performances. The most remarkable thing about the brothers is how articulate and well-adjusted they are, given their situation and the fact that they know it isn't normal.

Moselle's doc follows the slow dissolution of this bubble, as the boys each begin to reach an age where they can no longer be contained by their father's intimidation (while it's stated by the boys themselves that Oscar has previously assaulted Susanne, you get the impression he doesn't rule by physical force alone, if only because he's too lazy). Very light in direction and narration (we don't see the film-maker and only hear her voice twice), Crystal lets the film's subjects speak for themselves, and the full, disturbing picture is revealed naturally, rather than being thrust at the viewer, tabloid-style. This is the real winning-move of the film, as the extent of Oscar's manipulation only becomes apparent once the audience sees how accepting his family have become of the situation (although the film tracks this as it changes, albeit also quietly and gradually).

Angulo Sr appears on-camera sporadically, even being reluctantly interviewed himself on occasion. While he's clearly 'allowed' the documentary to be made in his home, you can tell he's also spent a good deal of the production time thinking he can stay out of the way of the lens. But the film is as much about him as it is his sons, and you end up feeling a mixture of pity and contempt for a man who is both so misguided and aimless (and these feelings are brought about more by his own appearances than anything said about him by others - of which there is plenty).

It's difficult to feel inspired by any of what happens, but Moselle captures a glimmer of hope in the final straight as the boys (and their mother and sister) begin to integrate with the outside world. Although you know that some wounds can't be healed by sunlight and fresh air alone, no matter how welcome they are…

Sad and compelling in equal measure, The Wolfpack handles its topic frankly but delicately, and patronises neither its subjects nor its audience. Not always an easy ride, but it's well worth an hour and a half of your time.

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
That's going to depend on how eager you are to see it. It's definitely worth paying to see, yes.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
A rental; you probably won't watch it more than a couple of times.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
Although it's a documentary, the performances of the brothers themselves within it are fantastic.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I won't.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't, even though the boys themselves must have heard more than their fair share over the years.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Among the brothers' cinematic homages is a recreation of the 'cleaning up Marvin's skull' scene from Pulp Fiction, in which Narayana plays the role of Jules Winfield, made famous of course by Sam 'Windu' Jackson.

Alas, the completed film doesn't feature the Angulo brothers' take on Star Wars, but you can see their DIY Darth Vader helmet over here at

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Oscar claims to want to 'protect' his children of ages 12 to 23, yet he'll happily buy them (and let them re-enact) the Halloween and Nightmare On Elm Street. Although to be fair, his parenting fails go way beyond the films he he lets them watch…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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