The Wolfpack review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Movies have always been an escape - allowing the audience to leave their bodies and place themselves in the shoes of others. For the boys of the Angulo family in New York City, it was their only escape. Sheltered and locked away for most of their lives, the six brothers have only experienced the outside world through the 5,000+ movies they have viewed for over 14 years. To pass the time over the many years in isolation, the boys find themselves reenacting their favorite films with a camcorder and make-shift props. It’s akin to the Swede method of playing low-rent tributes to memorable movies, first coined by the 2008 picture Be Kind Rewind. But while the Sweding of movies was mostly a fun hobby for those who dabbled, the Angulo boys did so as a coping mechanism. For them, the movie dialogue of characters has become their own language and way of life. And the movies themselves became their only window to the rest of the world outside.
Having been homeschooled and locked away since they were very young, you may be wondering how such a family was discovered being so secluded. It was in 2010 when the boys finally made a trip outside when they caught the eye of film documentarian Crystal Moselle. They’d be hard to miss as the brothers ventured out into the streets of New York with their black suits and sunglasses - reminiscent of the gang from Reservoir Dogs. Not having developed the proper social skills, the boys find themselves sticking to the safety of the characters they embody. While they kick around the streets of New York in their suits, they start joking around with each other in gangster-style talk, unloading friendly cackles and plenty of curse words. If you didn’t know that movies were their primary form of communication, you’d mistake them for a well-coordinated street act.
The boys have slowly grown accustom to the outside world through small trips given their childhood of growing up within the confines of apartment walls. Oscar, their father, initially banned his wife and children from ever leaving the premises. Only Oscar has the key and he only leaves to stock up on food and bring back movies. His reasons for keeping his family secluded are fairly predictable - fearing the outside world and growing weary of all its darkness. The years have made him lazy and distant from his family as he reluctantly accepts his boys being allowed to leave the nest.
But it seems as though he has little to worry about given how well the boys attempt to adjust. One of them manages to take a job as a stagehand and acquire his own place to live. You’d think that his many years of homeschooled isolation would make talking with others a chore, but he connects quite well when chatting with his co-workers about TV shows. He even works up the courage and skill to create his own short film that is rather honest and unique. Not too shabby for some kid who was a shut-in for his entire childhood doing nothing but watch movies.
The Angulo boys are a lovable pack with their brotherhood in the face of a possessive and cold father. Perhaps the highest point of their lives during filming is when they all make an outing for the one event they have dreamed about: going to a movie theater. They don their finest of suits, purchase their tickets for The Fighter and seat themselves with bags of popcorn. The screen lights up and they are mesmerized for two hours. They leave the theater overjoyed at both the experience and being able to contribute money to their heroes Christopher Nolan and David O. Russell.
The Wolfpack is a beautiful testament to the power of movies that can transcend limited worlds and perhaps open new ones. It’s the reason I pride myself on being so involved with swamping myself in the medium as it provides an easy language to connect with others. The Angulo boys probably wouldn’t strike up a great conversation with a lead in about being homeschooled in an apartment complex. But they can easily carry on a conversation about The Dark Knight or Pulp Fiction for hours on end. Geeky and nerdy? You bet, but it’s a pleasing result after living a sheltered life.