No one appreciates the influence that film has on society more than a film writer like myself. Movies are a mirror that reflects a distorted but important image of society back to us. They help us make sense of our world. But what if that was all we had? What if film was our only window into the world? For the Angulo Brothers, that has been their reality their entire lives.

THE WOLFPACK, from director Crystal Moselle, documents these fascinating brothers and their strange upbringing as they attempt to break free of the physical and psychological locks placed on them since birth by their oddball father.

He imposed a life of solitude on his family, claiming that society and its ills would corrupt his family. He is a misguided, selfish, and controlling zealot. His frustrating ideology was largely unquestioned by his children or his fearful wife for most of the time that he kept them inside their Lower East Side apartment complex, but most viewers will be frustrated by how easily his logic can be torn apart. He judges society harshly, but has not participated in it for decades. He hates the government, but has no problem taking a check from them each month. He wants his children to develop their own identities without the input or corruption of the outside world, but he robs them of the chance to do that by forcing them to live under his thumb and away from normal human experiences that we all must face in order to be well-rounded people.

The boys’ mother is a far more tragic story. Her husband is controlling and abusive towards her, and her deep psychological shackles make her fearful of breaking free. While she too fears what the “real world” will do for her children, it is clear that her love for them permits her to entertain the idea that what she believed was best for them 20 years ago cannot continue.

The entire thing is immensely creepy, as you can imagine, but despite their grim surroundings these boys develop a close bond and a love for all things pop culture. They do not just watch movies, they memorize them, transcribe them by hand, and then re-enact them perfectly in full costumes they have made themselves out of household objects like cereal boxes. As they become men, they rebel against their fathers controlling ways and begin to venture outside. Understandably, this presents a whole new set of challenges.

They begin by appearing to take on alternative personas, falling into the comfort of the films and characters they know and love to put a buffer between them and the rest of society. One boy is arrested after leaving the house in a Michael Myers mask he made himself. When all 6 go on a trip to the beach, they all swap between accents from British to Brooklyn. They compare everything they see to movies, even the sand at the beach (“It’s like Lawrence of Arabia!”) The true triumph of this film, however, comes when we begin to see each boy take ownership of their own identity, and when that independence begins to rub off on their mother.


THE WOLFPACK  plays at Hot Docs 2015 today, Sunday April 26th – 4pm at The Scotiabank Theatre (official website)