When filmmaker Crystal Moselle first met the Angulo brothers in 2010, they were six wide-eyed teenagers running loose on the streets of the East Village in New York City. It was literally one of the first times they had ever been outside of their family’s apartment. Sensing a bigger story, and appealing to the brothers’ interest in filmmaking, Moselle made friends with the boys and was granted access to their isolated world for the next five years. The result is her compelling documentary The Wolfpack.
The Wolfpack is a look into the lives of the six Angulo brothers, the offspring of a South American father and an American mother whose entire lives were spent inside an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The boys were home-schooled by their mother and basically locked away from the world, shut inside the cramped apartment by their overbearing and protective father – with his movie collection. The brothers, nicknamed the Wolfpack, spent all day every day soaking up the movies, becoming major film geeks. Eventually, they took to making their own versions of the movies, fan-boy interpretations that combine word-for-word dialogue and shot-for-shot direction with silly homemade props and whatever-they-had-around costuming. It’s like when they were done with their home-schooling for the day, they went to home-film school.
The Wolfpack is simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting. The thought of these six boys shuttered away from the world is the heartbreaking part, but what they do with their time inside is nothing short of incredible. Their movies look exactly as you’d think they would – camcorder imitations of Reservoir Dogs, The Dark Knight Rises, Pulp Fiction – but they show an inventiveness and resourcefulness that is sorely lacking in today’s mainstream cinema. Who would think to make a Christian Bale-Batman suit out of cereal boxes and a black yoga mat? These guys, that’s who.
The movie is not just about the boys’ amateur productions, though. Most of The Wolfpack is made up of candid, verité-style footage of the brothers at home intercut with interview footage. It’s through these words and images that the audience really gets to know the Angulo brothers and learns their story. In one sitting, the de-facto leader of the brothers, Mukunda, tells the tale of the first time he ever snuck out of the apartment – wearing a Halloween Michael Myers mask, so the police were called as soon as he entered a store and he was brought right back home. This one act of rebellion sparked the curiosity of his brothers, and their parents soon realized that the boys couldn’t be kept hidden away forever; they were allowed to leave, and that’s when Crystal Moselle met them. Their initial interactions with the outside world are captured by Moselle’s cameras, the boys saying things like “this is like 3D” and “I feel like I’m in The Lord of the Rings!” Moselle captures the boys riding the subway, dipping their feet in the ocean, going to a movie theater for the first time (they see The Fighter) – basically living out their entire missed childhood over the course of an afternoon.
The Angulo brothers have a fascinating story, and The Wolfpack tells it very well. The brothers look very much alike, with dark flowing manes of hair and striking Hispanic/Indian features (two of them are even twins), so it can get difficult to keep track of who’s talking to the camera at any given time, but in the end it doesn’t matter. They are a pack. The Wolfpack.