The Learning Channel must be kicking itself over not discovering “The Wolfpack” before filmmaker Crystal Moselle did. The Angulos of New York’s lower East Side have nothing on the Duggars of Arkansas.
Big, eccentric family raised in a cultish atmosphere? Check.
Politically radical patriarch? Check.
Birth control-averse parents? Check.
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Undiscussed suggestions of abuse? Checkmate.
“The Wolfpack” captures the coming of age of six brothers, sons of a couple of parents they describe as “hippies,” who grew up poor, confined to a dumpy apartment in New York City, home-schooled, “protected” from the outside world, but given complete access to movies.
Born to a controlling, drunken Peruvian dad, Oscar, and a Midwestern mom (Susanne) who fell for him on a trip to the Andes, these seven kids were raised “shut off” from other people. The seven kids were given “Hare Krishna” (Sanskrit) names, taught by their mom and not allowed outside more than a couple of times a year.
“We were in a prison,” one son admits. “Dad overdid it,” suggests another. “The Wolfpack” catches them just as they’re coming into their own, passively challenging the tyrant they live under and starting to experience the world.
The boys — their sister Visnu doesn’t speak on camera — grow their hair long, talk in cinematic one-liners, dress in costumes of their own design and remake their favorite films. A yoga mat and cereal boxes are carved up into a Dark Knight costume. Toy guns, white shirts, ties and sunglasses are all you need to be “Reservoir Dogs.”
Their lack of teen self-consciousness is a little refreshing, their language and numbness to screen violence troubling.
Moselle films the awkward family dynamics, Mom admitting this isolation was “not positive” in their lives. But the kids, traveling in their “tribe,” often in “Reservoir Dogs” wear, face their first subway ride, first venture to Coney Island and the beach, with only mild trepidation. Their good-natured support for one another is charming.
But hints of violent incidents and their father’s drinking, cast a shadow. Father Oscar comes off as paranoid, delusional and arrogant on camera. And Moselle, granted all this access, leaves so many questions unanswered that “The Wolfpack” is frustrating to sit through.
You don’t have to take notes to wonder, “Where’s the money coming from? How are they living? Is the sister mentally impaired? If so, why isn’t she getting care?”
Moselle can’t be bothered to even ID the kids, initially. It’s hard to make out who the real long-haired rebel is, who the real long-haired film fanatics are.
The morbid curiosity that draws TV viewers to over-sized family “reality” shows is the lure here. Moselle, for all the questions she fails to ask, reminds us that there’s a broad spectrum of weird parenting going on out there. And you don’t have to be a cynic to wonder if the next generation of therapists are going to have their hands full, dealing with the consequences.