The Wolfpack is an engaging and bizarre story told through documentary form, sadly, it mostly misses the forest for the trees.
What is going on in The Wolfpack is a horror story. It is a horror story with a, sort of, kind of happy ending, but it is still a horror story. Sadly, Crystal Moselle, ultimately, skirts around the horror. Dancing right up to the edge of making this something truly incredible, and sad, but she instead runs back to the quirky and warm side of the story after peaking at what might really be going on. Now, maybe Moselle couldn’t coax out the truth from her soft-spoken subjects, but she gets more than enough signposts that leave the viewer wanting her to dig up the worst of it and bring all of this craziness crumbling to the grown.
I guess it would be nice to tell you what I’m talking about, right? The Wolfpack is centered around a group of six siblings, the Angulos, who recreate/”swede” the movies they love, right in their own apartment, because they are never allowed to leave. Yes, these six brothers and their youngest, handicapped, sister almost never (like, maybe once a year) leave their New York City apartment. This is thanks to a parenting technique that thinks the world will corrupt them, mostly driven by their father (more on him later), that sees them re-creating films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, No Country for Old Men, Nightmare Before Christmas, Nolan’s Batman films, the list goes on.
Now, the footage we see of them recreating these movies is, admittedly, pretty well done. Their costume work is legitimately incredible for what they are making it from, same goes for props and makeup, while one of the brothers is actually a pretty good actor/impressionist. His Buscemi, Ledger’s Joker and Travolta’s Vincent Vega performances are really just spot on. A story about these kids making these movies makes for an interesting short subject documentary, for sure, but what Moselle keeps cutting away from to show more of this just feels, tonally, off.
I get the films are an escape, but Moselle never gets to the absolute bottom of what the kids are trying to escape from so it doesn’t have as much of an impact. Same goes for the kids eventual liberation from the house. The father isn’t shown to be totalitarian enough (or at all really) to think these guys aren’t going to eventually move on as they get older. Even then, Moselle focus on the one success story of the group and not the ones still getting left behind. I think the best stuff she gets is what is going on with the mother of the boys, who breaks free from it all as well, but even that feels rushed, like we missed a big leap to where this new side of her came from. That scene on the phone with her mom was worth it all though.
The stuff that they don’t get into with the dad leaves you unsettled and lets your imagination run wild with the worst of what might have happened. His on camera appearances make him look like an idiot, for sure, but there is some dark shit floating under the surface of this family and you just want it to get busted open and everyone to be able to get past it.
The Wolfpack is engaging and well worth watching, but the experience ultimately is a tad frustrating beyond all the cute and quirky stuff the film offers. The movie swedes are solid, watching the kids get out into the world is great to see, but I just wish it would have dug a bit deeper, even if it would have dug up a lot of bad blood.