Several young men dress in plain black suits and call roll: Mr. Pink, Mr. White, Mr. Orange... hey wait! that’s Reservoir Dogs.
Sure enough, the young Angulo brothers are playing a scene from one of their favorite movies. They take the staging very seriously, from the costumes to the props to the dialogue. When one of the brothers explains his painstaking technique for capturing dialogue — turning on subtitles and frequent use of the pause button — one might think of the ambitious Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation made by young fans before the advent of home video.
But where the “Raiders Boys” were suburban kids having fun in the a summer, the Angulo brothers are a bit more... clinical.
The Angulo brothers never went out in the summer and shot a video. They never went out at all, in fact. Home-schooled youngsters, they grew up in their high-storey New York apartment. And I don’t just mean that’s where they lived when they grew up; I mean they grew up in the apartment.
One of the brothers, on camera, recalls that that “Sometimes we go out 9 times a year, sometimes we got out one time a year, and one particular year we never got out at all.”
Life With Father
So where are the parents in all this?
They are right there with the boys. Mother comes across as a free spirit, a possible former hippie, liberal, educated, open minded. The father is spoken of in reverent but not pleasant tones. There are suggestions of physical abuse, drunkenness and domineering.
Back before the family formed, dad gave tours on the Inca trail, which is where mom met him. The boys look like American Indians, with olive skin, long straight black hair, and dark eyes. They have a sister too, who doesn’t make much of an appearance on camera.
Whether the family is unhealthy I will leave to the psychologists in the audience. But here they are, captured on Crystal Moselle’s camera.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The first 40 minutes of the film tells the story, with many detours into the various films that play an important role in the lives of the Angulo boys. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is big, as are the films of Quentin Tarantino, especially Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. “If I didn’t have movies I’d be a pretty lonely person.”
But how can we be watching a documentary if the boys are truly that isolated? We never know for sure how director Moselle gained access. But the boys did eventually rebel against their lockdown. “I wore a mask so nobody would recognize me. Father was out getting food. I just had this urge to go out on my own.”
Of course walking around, wearing a mask, entering stores and banks and walking back out is a good way to get noticed. And in fact the brother who left the house was picked up by the police. He ended up in an institution, so essentially, the first time he encountered other people, he was exposed to mental patients. Not ideal.
The rest of the film follows the children in their progress into the real world, and fills in the occasional gap in their story.
I found the story of the Angulos compelling, and as someone whose life is made richer by film, I can empathize with the notion of movies as a lifeline. I am particularly proud of the Angulos for gravitating toward what I agree are some valuable cinematic voices: Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan among them.
The Wolfpack has a fascinating subject and is a worthwhile documentary.
The promotional materials for The Wolfpack include some hagiographic quotes from critics. I might have fallen more deeply under The Wolfpack ‘s spell If I had never seen director Doug Pray’s Surfwise. That’s another documentary about a large family, home schooled, and raised unorthodoxly. I would say that Surfwise is a far better documentary because of its careful and formal structure.
... But then maybe I’ve spent too much time cooped up inside watching movies.