- "The Dark Knight," in a suit made of cardboard and yoga mats, surveys Gotham.
"One particular year, we never got out at all."
So recalls one of the Angulo children, explaining one facet of his family's bizarre hermetic existence in the heart of New York City, now recounted in Crystal Moselle's documentary, The Wolfpack. The Angulos — six brothers, one sister and their parents — live in a spare, shabby apartment in the Lower East Side. Dad long fancied himself as a god, and after moving his family to New York in 1996, decreed that the outside world was too unsafe. Thus, the kids were home-schooled, and only rarely went outside.
But there were movies — VHS tapes, DVDs and camera equipment — and out of boredom, the boys began to recreate their favorite films. Out of household materials, they built props and costumes, and re-enacted and shot the films from scripts they typed from closed captioning. (Wolfpack opens with a scene from their Reservoir Dogs, featuring detailed guns made from cardboard and duct tape.)
In the film, the boys — Moselle chooses not to individually identify them — tell their own story, through contemporary interviews, archival home movies and just hanging out with the filmmaker.
Oddly, the film omits how Moselle discovered the Angulos, but it's explained in the press notes. In 2010, while shooting a film in the streets, she encountered the boys; she noticed their Reservoir Dogs suits, they noticed her camera. They had just started leaving the apartment, and Moselle spent the next five years documenting their bizarre coming-of age.
It's a fascinating portrait that manages to skirt being exploitive; it helps that by the time Moselle started filming, the boys — all of whom are bright, articulate and engaging — have gained agency and are re-fashioning their lives, one outside adventure at a time, however oddly. (When sand is encountered for the first time at Coney Island, one boy calls out, "Lawrence of Arabia!")
But their history is heartbreaking: Their home movies were a source of pleasure and an outlet for energy, but also a necessary coping mechanism for their weird, cult-like life. Not surprisingly, they were especially drawn to movies in which characters struggled with dark themes. After seeing The Dark Knight, says one: "I did everything I could to make that world come true, to escape my world." There's a lot to unpack here about the power of cinema, which for the Angulo boys functioned as an ad-hoc tutorial for the life outside, and as way to stay connected and sane. And it now shines a light on affirming transformation of the Angulos into participants in the real world.