FILM REVIEW: The Wolfpack

The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle, 2015)

One of the hottest tickets at the Melbourne International Film Festival, The Wolfpack has been accompanied by oodles of buzz – “mesmerising”, “has to be seen to believed”, “a bombshell documentary” are just some of the critic quotes included in the trailer. A terrifying concept, a beguiling trailer, OH MY GOD SIGN ME UP RIGHT NOW. And yet, while it was an interesting film, it didn’t quite pack the punch I was hoping for.

The Angulo brothers live tucked away in the Lower East Side of NYC in a small apartment with their parents and younger sister. Home-schooled, they are rarely allowed outside of their building; their father fears what awaits them in the real world. The brothers share a love of movies and spend their days acting out their favourites to be preserved on film. As they enter adulthood they begin to challenge their father’s dominance, and seek to enter the real world.

It’s no doubt an interesting concept, but it’s hard to believe that their father would allow a documentary filmmaker into his home to document this form of abuse, which certainly doesn’t do his image any favours. Viewers can speculate on earlier history of physical abuse, but the film does little to explore this. While it does capture the sense of claustrophobia experienced by the boys, the point is unclear. The six boys also tend to amalgamate into one; while we are told their names at the start, director Moselle does not bother to remind us, and their physical similarities make it difficult to differentiate between them at times.

Every now and then the accompanying music took on an ominous tone, which seemed to predicate a shocking revelation – a murder? A suicide? The morbid side of me was disappointed that the film wasn’t darker. Instead, they grow up, they go outside, and Dad has to deal with it. Why is that interesting? It appears that there is a significant chunk of events missing from the film which perhaps would have made the film all the more compelling. Why was it omitted? Therein lies the question.

The brothers’ recreation of their favourite films is fun to watch, and the film acts in part as a love letter to the movies. One might think that these kids would lack any awareness of the real world due to their insular living conditions, however the film serves to remind us how eye-opening the world of film can be. One has to wonder, however, that if their father was so concerned about the cruelties of the real world, why he would be so willing for his children to watch so many violent films.

Crystal Moselle interestingly sets us up against the father, before finally including an interview with him late in the film which forces the viewer to re-evaluate. Up until that point one would assume he’d declined participation, but this was obviously not the case. It seems Moselle is trying to manipulate her audience, but her intention is confusing.

The Wolfpack is certainly not your typical movie-going experience. It’s weird, it’s mysterious, and it’s most definitely unique. For these reasons it’s worth a watch, but it may leave viewers wanting.

3 stars

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