More effective at evoking creepy mystery than at articulating a point of view, Crystal Moselle’s documentary The Wolfpack profiles six brothers who’ve lived their entire lives as shut-ins in a Manhattan housing project, with their DVD collection as their only connection to the outside world. Blending the family’s home videos with her own often-grainy footage, Moselle creates something like a real-life Harmony Korine movie; the brothers’ major pastime is reenacting scenes from their favorite films (The Dark Knight, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, etc.) with props and costumes made out of cardboard and duct tape. (Their performance of the opening sequence from The Nightmare Before Christmas, complete with real fire, is equal parts cutesy and unsettling.) The relationship between documentarians and their subjects is often delicate, especially when it comes to private space, but The Wolfpack is perhaps too reluctant to pursue lines of inquiry; what starts as a nonfiction mood piece grows frustratingly opaque as the brothers begin to venture out into the real world, meet girls, and get jobs.
Though homeschooled and raised in social isolation by their hippie mother and alcoholic father, the Angulos—Mukunda, Krsna, Jagadisa, Govinda, Bhagavan, and Narayana—aren’t all that different from any number of geeky teenagers, reverting to movie quotes, self-deprecating jokes, and accents at moments of awkwardness. Their chattiness and relative normalcy make them interesting subjects, as though their bizarre home life were an exaggerated expression of everyday teenage obsessions. In many ways, the movie is an inadvertent companion piece to Me And Earl And The Dying Girl; the two films, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year and are opening on the same day, both deal with teenagers who remake their favorite movies for fun and both climax with one of the teens making an avant-garde movie of his own in an attempt to connect with the bigger world.
The Wolfpack is strongest in early stretches, during which it presents elliptical glimpses of the Angulos’ ritualized, handmade private world. In other words, it’s better at depicting a group than at depicting individuals, which becomes a problem once the Angulos start venturing out into New York City. (The brothers’ similar speaking voices and identical long hairstyles, combined with frequently dim lighting, don’t exactly help matters.) And though it makes for some wry observations about the difference between reality and fiction—one brother expressing disappointment at how often people say “like” in real life, for instance—the movie’s second half often struggles to sustain interest or manage its subjects’ increasing independence. Attempts at organizing disparate threads, like a moving-out montage set to Black Sabbath’s “End Of The Beginning,” tend to come across as ham-fisted.
One can appreciate the ellipses as gesture, with the movie giving the brothers the distance they’ve never had, but it doesn’t always make for compelling viewing. And when it comes to nominal head-of-household Oscar—a possibly abusive Peruvian ex-Hare Krishna who seems to exert strict control over his children’s lives despite existing in a drunken, befuddled daze—it’s hard to tell who’s being more evasive: The Wolfpack or its subjects.