Movie Review - The Wolfpack

Director Crystal Moselle found a very interesting subject, a great subject in fact, but she doesn't explore it as best or as deeply as she could have. There are so many questions that are unanswered. Moselle is able to capture certain feelings of her subject, but not a wide-enough range. She doesn't dig too far, which is weird because it seems like most of her subjects were open or came to be open.

The film is about the Angulo family that lives in a public housing apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The family consists of a South American immigrant, his Caucasian wife and their seven children. There are in fact six boys and one girl. Moselle centers on the six boys. However, the hook is that these children are home-schooled, not only that but also home-imprisoned.

The Angulo father explained that he wanted to settle in Scandinavia and that he hated New York City. He couldn't afford to leave, mainly because he didn't want to work, but, out of fear, he decided not to allow his children outside. He kept them locked in the apartment for mostly all their lives.

His wife agreed with him, and the children seemed like they had a relatively happy existence. Yet, as the boys got older, one or two wanted to go out. One actually did sneak out. He got into trouble, but he kept going out and his brothers started to join him.

Now, all of this could have congealed into a compelling narrative, but if this were a hand-drawn picture, Moselle limits herself to a pencil outline of the characters. She doesn't really embrace many colors or putting much in between the graphite lines. Something simple that would have helped is more titles.

It's good that Moselle's camera in many ways takes the point-of-view of the children and immerses us into that cramped apartment. We feel the claustrophobia of it with all these boys, almost constantly on top of each other, but Moselle doesn't go far enough to make us feel the issues that a group of teenage boys might encounter, the awkwardness or the lack of privacy.

We just see the boys running about or playing. They laugh and are seemingly happy, but the half-dozen or so boys are like one mass, each boy being not that dissimilar or even discernible from the other. In that sense, having titles might have been anti-thematic but walking away from the movie, I couldn't even tell you who was whom.

I couldn't tell you the name of the boy who snuck out. It's not just because his name might be difficult to spell or pronounce, if you only read it, but Moselle doesn't provide titles to identify the boys. Each of their names is quickly said out loud once and that's it. That would've been acceptable if more were done to help distinguish the boys otherwise. I couldn't even tell you how old they are or what their age-range is.

Moselle does interview the parents, but it's difficult to talk to the father given his general attitude and the fact that English is not his first language, but there are so many questions that the mother could have answered that who knows if she were even asked.

There is a scene where the Angulo mother is calling her own matriarch to whom apparently she hasn't spoken in years if not decades. I'm sure there is a story there of why, but Moselle ignores it. Maybe Moselle asked and the Angulo mother didn't want to go into it, but at least show us the attempt to ask.

The Angulo mother also expresses in a scene that this life is not the one she wanted. Whether or not she would have preferred Scandinavia isn't told, but she had seven children with her husband. If life wasn't going as planned, one question that Moselle could have asked is what was she thinking by the sixth or seventh child. What were her conversations with her husband or her thoughts about why she settled for this life that she didn't want?

Also, with this home-imprisoning of their children, what did they think would happen once their children became adults? How were the boys supposed to fall in love or explore their passions or have any careers? Were they meant to stay in that tiny apartment forever? What was the long-term plan for their children becoming adults? These are questions that Moselle should have posed to the parents but never did or never did on camera.

The most interesting parts of this documentary is when Moselle follows the boys as they venture into the outside world. Their excitement, anxiety and awkwardness are compelling, but there isn't much of that here. Moselle would rather spotlight the way these boys make amateur movies much like Jafar Panahi who is also a home-imprisoned filmmaker, but that certainly isn't enough.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.


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