The Wolfpack movie review: 'it has to be seen to be believed'
In 2010, a young Manhattan film-maker called Crystal Moselle was walking down First Avenue when she noticed a strange group of boys coming towards her. They walked close together, had waist-length dark hair and wore black Ray-bans like the gang in Reservoir Dogs. She began talking to them, and within minutes realised she'd stumbled on to something big.
The Angulo brothers had spent most of their lives locked in their parents' run-down apartment on New York's Lower East Side. Home-schooled by their mother and hidden away from the world by their controlling and narcissistic father, the six brothers and their older sister had grown up in total ignorance of the wider world, venturing outside only for urgent doctor's appointments and, some years, not at all.
Their only glimpse into the world beyond their windows was provided by videos and DVDs of Hollywood films their father sometimes brought home. The brothers bonded watching films like The Godfather, Dark Knight and Halloween, re-enacting scenes using their own impressively elaborate costumes and sets.
At the start of Ms. Moselle's powerful and absorbing film The Wolfpack, the Angulo brothers recreate the famous ear-severing scene from Reservoir Dogs, looking totally engrossed in their performances, and seeming more like actors than teenagers kidding around. Perhaps that's because, for the Angulos, the films they saw were almost as necessary to them as food and water, and helped them dream of a wider world they might one day get to experience.
Crystal Moselle spent four years filming and getting to know the brothers, and in her intimate and sensitive documentary never makes the mistake of becoming maudlin, or judgemental. She lets the story tell itself, and what a story it is.
Their mother, Suzanne Reisenbichler, was a free-spirited Midwestern hippie on her way to Machu Picchu when she met a charismatic Peruvian called Oscar Angulo. They began travelling together, and wound up in a Hare Krishna community in West Virginia, where they had their first four children.
Oscar had a large ego, and imagined himself to be some sort of guru. He didn't like working, and dreamed of founding his own cult. And when none came running, he decided to grow his own tribe. His model was the god Krishna, who had ten children with each of his 16,000 wives. Oscar sportingly restricted himself to just the one wife, but he and Suzanne had seven children, who were all given Sanskrit names.
In the mid-1990s they moved to New York, and found a cheap apartment in a Lower East Side housing project: Oscar kept the only key for himself. Suzanne was only allowed to take the children out for medical appointments, and the family lived on a government home-schooling subsidy.
For over a decade, this small apartment was a kind of prison for the Angelo brothers, originally named Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krsna and Jagadisa, and now aged between 23 and 16. And they appear to have survived by escaping into their fertile imaginations with a little help from Hollywood.
Oscar's bizarre regime ended not with a bang, but a whimper. In 2010, when he was 15, Mukanda walked out of the apartment while his father was off buying groceries. The spell was broken, and the brothers began defying their father's orders and venturing outside together. It was on one of their earliest forays that they were spotted by Crystal Moselle.
Her compelling documentary is an oddly uplifting film, a story of human ingenuity and endurance with a kind of happy ending. As Moselle's camera rolls, the brothers pick apples, climb trees, and wade together into the sea at Coney Island. They cut their hair, feel the sun on their skin, and go to a cinema for the first time. Given their experiences, that must have been the most special treat of all. (15A, 90 mins)