"The Wolfpack," a documentary by Crystal Moselle, is a tale right out of the fiction of Jerzy Kosinski Being There), only it is real. This unsettling yet oddly energetic film, tells of the Angulo family: six brothers and one girl living in an apartment on the Lower East Side of New York City. At first glance, they appear smiling and happy, a family at home watching tv.
A minute later one of the brothers confesses a disturbing revelation. The boys' father, a struggling musician, is under a delusion. Obsessed with the negativity of modern life, he keeps the children under his iron hand. The six only go outside a handful of times a year and sometimes not at all. Friends outside of family are forbidden and the children are home-schooled.
They go from room to room only when told. The father Oscar, a self made guru, rules with fear and intimidation. He is periodically abusive and withdrawn.
The only creative outlet the kids receive is through film. Somehow, Oscar gives the kids a steady diet of film, classic and otherwise. The brothers develop a cult of worship with Robert De Niro, Quentin Tarantino, Batman, The Dark Knight, and horror films.
They love their mother, Susanne. She is also under the blight of fear as the target of intermittent physical violence.
To combat this horror, the brothers: Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Makunda, Krshna and Jagadisa, along with their sister Visnu, re-enact blockbuster films and type out complete scripts by typewriter.
Computers are nonexistent. Except for movies, the family is Luddite.
This could be depressing and a good deal of it is.
The Angulo kids put so much inventive play into their costumes and scenes, that their re-imaginations become a true feat with passion and heart, if only for themselves.
Through this ritual they learn what it is to relate as social beings.
Makunda first decides to break away from his father's fearful rule, by simply walking out a front door, wearing a mask from "Halloween."
No one recognized him.
As Makunda says, at that moment he was Michael Myers, The Shape.
After that interlude which involved the police, the father grew embarrassed and relaxed his grip.
Most compelling by far are the shots featuring the Angulos donning the wardrobe of "Reservoir Dogs" in black suits and sunglasses, voyaging out for the first time to the movies or the beach in Coney Island, accompanied by the director, Ms. Moselle, their first friend.
Out in the bright day, the six appear in stark relief living images of Tarantino in their own film. The ocean hits them like quenching fire and they transform into pale fish brought from another world.
Such is the power of forced confinement.
Although the film does go repetitive, the scenes of the Halloween's celebration, akin to a kitsch Walpurgis Night in which all horror villains from Pumpkinhead to Freddy Kruger are portrayed in a wobbling joy, lift up the urban ennui.
The kids are truly talented in filtering the films that they see into their own vocabulary that is both personal and precious to them. Very moving to the heart as well is the last reveal: the formidable Oscar, stubborn, stern and violent at times is ultimately pushed into the margins, all because the brothers chose to put their power into a suit of black cardboard and yoga mats and believe in The Batman.
The big bad wolf of a patriarch gradually withers into a harmless sheep under the force of desire.
In watching "The Wolfpack" you might recognize a truth that some of us may well take for granted. Films are not just mere entertainment. As visual works they also have the ability to inspire and transform. Film can be a life saving beacon and a call to action.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org