The innate parental desire to protect children is manifested in bizarre and extreme ways in The Wolfpack, a documentary feature starring the Angulo siblings – consisting of six brothers and one mentally disabled sister – who have been confined to their New York apartment for most of their lives at the insistence of their father. With restricted social interactions, the kids have severely limited communication and interpersonal skills, and have learnt much of what they know about the world through watching a vast amount of movies and re-enacting their favourites.
The Wolfpack is a fascinating look into a dysfunctional family that really attempts to pull the viewer into the outlandish world of the Angulos, without seeming overly sentimental, which could have been an easy path for director Crystal Moselle to have followed. Though it is obvious that the entire family (including the mother) have endured extensive psychological, and sometimes physical, abuse from the father, Moselle decides not to focus on these frequently-covered issues. She instead opts to construct the narrative around the imaginary world that these siblings have created for themselves, as a distraction from their otherwise confined and depressing lives – the Pan’s Labyrinth of documentaries, so to speak. It is a refreshing take, to say the least, and one that crescendos into a very satisfying emotional climax that allows the audience a brief glimpse into the thoughts and fantasies of the eldest Angulo brother, via an original film that he directs himself.
Unfortunately, however, The Wolfpack falls far short of a truly great documentary. Whilst the Angulos are certainly captivating subjects, the film itself is indicative of what happens when a director who has not yet perfected his craft tries to tell a story that is deserving of only the most superlative of filmmakers. What if Spielberg had started out his career with Schindler’s List – would it have been the same movie? Moselle misses the mark in a few places, by staying at arm’s length from the subjects, and failing to ask some important questions.
The Wolfpack drags at the beginning, and struggles to really find its footing until about 45 minutes in, but quickly becomes an emotionally gripping fable after that point. Had a more experienced director taken the helm and offered up some artistic flare, then maybe this film could have been something truly outstanding.
The Wolfpack is released nationwide on 21st August 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Wolfpack here: