TFF2015: The Wolfpack

 The Dork Knight: an Angulo brother channels Christian Bale.        

          As a lifelong movie geek, I was envious of the elaborate costumes created by the Angulo brothers in the much-acclaimed documentary The Wolfpack: Chris Nolan’s Batman, Bane, and, in one surrealistically unforgettable sequence, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and a host of other horror icons throwing fake leaves into a bonfire in a Halloween ritual.  I was less envious of their sheltered (to say the least) lives: the five siblings (including one sister) have spent nearly their entire lives inside the family’s cramped Lower East Side apartment.  Watching and dissecting movies isn’t just a hobby—it’s how the kids have learned about the world.  At one point, one of the brothers—it’s hard to tell them apart, because they all share similar looks and long, flowing black hair—recounts the number of times they all went outside in years past: 5, 4, and, in one particular year “we never went outside at all.”

            The kids’ dad is disturbed and physically abusive to their mom, but neither parent is a monster per se.  They’ve just become so fearful of the perceived violence in New York City that they want to shield their offspring from it, up to and including home schooling the children.  (They hoped to move to Scandinavia, but this never came to pass.  Dad’s lack of a job surely didn’t help matters.)  And the children’s lives are far from joyless.  Bright and articulate, the kids have transformed their pop cultural obsessions into digital video recreations of Tarantino movies and other films and drawings that decorate the walls of the apartment.     

            Still, the specter of the family’s bizarre situation rears its head throughout. It’s in the grainy video footage of the world outside the apartment’s windows.  It’s in the nervous and haunted words of the children’s mom.  And it’s most prominent when one of the boys recalls how he ventured out one day in the Michael Myers mask and wound up in a psych ward.  The danger of having such a limited and movie minded world view is all too present when he states that he “really felt like Michael.  I wondered if bullets could hurt me.”  This experience has an upside, though, getting him into therapy and encouraging he and his siblings to venture out and rebel against their father’s control.

            Director Crystal Moselle truly takes us on a journey with this film.  The impressive intimacy of her access allows this to become far more than a pageant of the bizarre, and for these unusual people to become familiar and endearing to us.  I’d hardly be surprised if this remarkable portrait of a remarkable family is up for the Best Documentary Film award at next year’s Oscars.  It’s just that good.

The Wolfpack screens tomorrow, April 22 at 6:30pm at Chelsea’s Bowtie Cinemas as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.  It may also screen on Sunday when the fest’s award winning movies will be screened throughout the day.

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