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Most folks remember the countless movies they watched throughout their childhood, re-enacting their favourite moments and dreaming of becoming the classic characters they cherished. But what if this was all you knew? For six brothers and their sister locked in a New York apartment for their childhood, this was their reality…
In recent years, documentaries seem to be increasingly transcending the barriers between the truly bizarre and the unimaginable reality. It’s a scary thought, especially when considering the subject matter of some of these films – Searching for Sugar Man and The Imposter revealed the dark truths behind people missing or presumed dead, whilst Catfish and Citizenfour threw our entire perception of identity and technological security into questions. This year it is us, the very people who love and view these films regularly, which will be shaken by a sinister skew of reality; our possible dream childhood or lifestyle lived out by group of brothers in Crystal Moselle’s fascinating but ultimately ominous exposé, The Wolfpack.
The Angulo siblings (brothers Krisna, Jagadesh, Mukunda, Govinda, Narayana, Bhagavan and sister Visnu) developed a passion and love of movies by being raised on them – just not in the same way you and I were. Confined to an apartment in the Lower East Side of New York for most of their lives and home-schooled by their parents on welfare, this “Wolfpack” learned about the world and gathered their perceptions of social norms almost entirely through their extensive viewing of movies. With no friends to interact with, the siblings use movies as a means of escaping their isolation and loneliness, utilising homemade props and costumes to re-enact classic scenes and express their own creativity and imagination. At age 15, Mukunda escapes the house and wanders the streets of Manhattan alone (in a Michael Myers mask no less, for “protection”), an act that reshapes the house dynamic and causes the kids to question their imprisonment, revealing their father’s somewhat foreboding intentions behind it all…
The premise feels like the ideal set up for a dream social experiment – what happens to the mind when it is fed and sustained entirely upon pop culture or media? It is with great luck that Moselle was able to capture this – spotting them strolling New York with hair down to their midriffs, dressed in suits and sunglasses á la Reservoir Dogs – and craft such an entertaining and compelling character study from the lives of these outcasts. It’s a blast watching the pack’s clips recreating their collection of thousands of beloved films (Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight and The Fighter among their favourites), but also shows promise of true talent both behind and in front of the camcorder, especially on a budget limited to whatever is lying around their apartment. Mukunda is the star of the pack; taking the initiative to leave the house without permission and paving the way for his siblings’ freedom, and later dazzling with his own original directorial efforts at home. This pack is utterly endearing, thanks mainly to the ability of every cinephile or outcast to relate to some (or most) aspects of their lives.
Of course, it’s not an entirely charming life; dark mysteries surround why exactly their father has refused to permit his children and wife outside the apartment. A conspiracy of fear and protest against the American government, and even cult-like tendencies are brought up but sadly never satisfactorily explored – most likely due to their father’s refusal to reveal much on camera. Unfortunately this is where the film falters slightly; it struggles to find an ultimate purpose beyond its initial investigation as the kids branch out into the world and learn to become a part of society towards its climax. But as a ‘what if’ study, The Wolfpack is excellent – enjoyable, haunting and no doubt all too relatable for most film-lovers; a ‘where are they now?’ follow-up in the future would come more than welcome.
The Wolfpack is available in Australian cinemas from Thursday September 10
Images courtesy of Magnolia Pictures