“The Wolfpack,” director Crystal Moselle’s documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month, is proof positive that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Moselle’s film tells the story of six brothers who were locked inside their family’s shabby four-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side from infancy to adolescence. Their father held the only key to the front door, and he kept it locked. Some years the boys were allowed outside three or four times, other years not at all.
The Angulo boys were home schooled by their mother. In their free time, they were allowed to watch movies nonstop on DVDs their father bought at a discount or borrowed from the library. By Moselle’s reckoning, the boys have seen upwards of 5,000 movies.
Initially the movies provided the Angulo brothers a means of escape from their crowded apartment. They transcribed the scripts of their favorite films and acted them out. Costumes were constructed from thrift shop clothing; props fashioned from materials scrounged in the apartment. Reservoir Dogs and The Dark Knight Rises were two of their favorite films, largely because there were enough parts to go around.
As the boys became adolescents, the movies assumed another role.
In one of the pivotal scenes from the film, Batman stands tall against the dull light filtering through a grimy window. “Wearing this costume gave me the courage to go outside,” Bhagavan Angulo says solemnly. As the camera gradually zooms in, you realize the black mask is papier-mâché and Batman’s weapons are cardboard and aluminum foil. The vest, he reveals a moment later, is made of yoga mats cut and sewn together.
At their best, movies entertain, enlighten, and perhaps disturb us. It is rare indeed that a film manages to do all three, but Moselle pulls it off. She allows the boys to tell the story; there is no narration, no judgment save theirs—and yours as you watch. Which is part of what makes the movie so compelling.
“The Wolfpack” captured the grand jury prize for best documentary at Sundance and will begin playing in theaters on June 12. In the meantime, check out the brothers reenacting scenes from one of their recent favorites, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” on Facebook.
My novel, Yard Sale, is available at Amazon.