This is one of those films where you find yourself shrugging and saying with a sigh, "Only in America". In New York's Lower East Side, a Peruvian man named Oscar Angulo decides to make his wife and seven children the victims of his paranoia, keeping them virtual prisoners in their apartment. Only he has the key to the locked front door; only he is allowed to go out into the big, bad world.
Home-schooled by their mother, the six boys and one girl (who has learning difficulties) quickly learn to make their own entertainment, forming their own rock band and making home movies, inspired by the DVDs their father brings home - from Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather to Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. They make their own costumes and props, and carefully transcribe their own scripts (they do not own a computer or mobile phones and therefore don't have access to the internet).
Their father has instilled his fear of the world in them all and it is not until the oldest boy Mukunda musters up the courage to venture out alone while their father is out shopping that they have any real contact with the outside world. Fifteen-year-old Mukunda's first trip out ends pretty dramatically with him being arrested and taken to a mental health facility after he dons a homemade mask in order to avoid being seen by his father. You really couldn't make this up.
How he eventually gets out isn't clear in this film. But slowly, we see the boys move out from beneath their father's tyranny, as they become useful members of the society their father has brought them up to shun. They cut their hair, take day trips to Coney Island, get jobs - even start to move out. The Angulo boys are articulate and oddly endearing in their eccentricity. When they go out together for the first time, they do so dressed as the characters from Reservoir Dogs - and this is the day that they are seen by Moselle, who starts filming the boys straight away.
Later in the film, when Oscar does try to explain his actions, he is so clearly unstable, you wonder why the children weren't taken into care a long time ago.
Wolfpack is an engrossing story but I couldn't help wishing that a more skilful filmmaker than Crystal Moselle had stumbled across it. This is a documentary that raises more questions than it answers. You wonder whether American society is so broken that no neighbour wondered what was going on, that no health visitor nor educational board member would have questioned the family's living conditions.
I only hope that a few years down the line, another filmmaker makes a documentary about the Angulo boys' therapist - The Wolfpack Sessions. Now, that's a film I'd like to see.
The Wolfpack is in cinemas now