The Wolfpack (2015)

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“To us and to our world it is very personal.”

As a student of film, a person infatuated with and lusting for more stories and more movies, I can understand the plight of The Wolfpack’s imprisoned group. Unlike them though, my isolation is self-induced, promulgated through anxiety and a natural sense of introversion. These young men were forced behind bars; I’ve sometimes willingly placed myself in the confines and thrown out the key. So, naturally and selfishly, I wanted to connect with this movie, with these people. It’s a fascinating story. But it’s handled by a filmmaker who doesn’t know how to piece it all together. I expected this movie to literally move me. To stir the emotions I hold so dear that only the best cinema is capable of affecting. The manipulation prevents that though, and The Wolfpack ends up being one of the most spellbinding stories told in the most methodical, boring, slow-paced manners in recent memory. The best documentaries are cinematic and the worst just simply document. This falls into the dull tedium of the middle. Less than 24 hours removed and I literally can’t remember how it ended.

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I had previously heard of the film before coming across the ABC 20/20 piece on the Angulo clan which only peaked my interest even more. Disappointingly though, that broadcast piece was better made, more insightful, and ultimately more dramatic. Maybe the movie would have been a greater success without the previous knowledge or the background information. But that also shouldn’t matter. Movies are lighthouses meant not to keep us on land, but to send us adrift, to keep us afloat on a raft in a squall of story, and guide us back in just when we’re about to capsize. The Wolfpack is undeniably moving. It’s a study in the paralyzing psychology of fear. However, those trepidations don’t directly translate to the audience, and as a result we’re left with endearing and sympathetic individuals who we are unable to connect with. There is such a wealth of material spanning years and years that first time director Crystal Moselle has no clue what to do with it all. She found a needle in a haystack and was never able to manage her way out.

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Moselle encountered the boys walking the sidewalks of New York. They all had waist length hair, dressed in suits and shades straight out of Reservoir Dogs, and she knew she had to follow-up on the young men who stood out from their surroundings. Moselle was the first guest that they ever had in their small apartment, itself a L-shaped product of the outrageous NYC housing prices. The Wolfpack places its focus on these six brothers, their collective interests and dislikes, and pretty much sticks to that formula for the entire running time. Why not show their sisters who somehow go almost entirely hidden throughout? Why not investigate curious neighbors? Why not employ an action-consequence-result formula that the story so obviously needed? Moselle is in over her head here. She tries her hardest, but after watching the footage, you imagine these creative adolescents could have made a more appealing movie than she did.

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The Wolfpack is built upon the guise of personal identification and examination through film. It’s infectious how much these kids love movies and upsetting to see how, for so long, it really was their only world. Despite that, everything feels staged and intrusive rather than authentic and observant. These kids are literally acting for their own cameras as well as Moselle’s, and it’s pure deception. The Angulo brothers relate everything to movies, and should they ever study the documentary made about their own lives, I think they would find it akin to Fredo’s betrayal of Michael Corleone (the Godfather I and II are all of their favorite movies.) I never felt as if I was watching a documentary. If anything it’s a more realistically drawn fable of fear and loathing and love in Manhattan, bearing strong resemblances to 2009’s manipulative and disturbing Greek feature Dogtooth. Simply put, these people are absorbing and the movie is not. The sextet of brothers have limitless creativity, and too often Moselle’s final product fails to tap into their resourceful and artistic energy.

“It makes me feel like I’m living.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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