The Wolfpack

Director: Crystal Moselle (2015)

This toothless grin of a documentary begins as a disturbing exploration of abuse and ends as a sunny coming of age tale.

The Wolfpack is the nickname of six movie-mad brothers who grew up in a high housing project on the Lower East Side of New York.

Their dad Oscar kept the only key to their threadbare apartment, only allowing his children out for essential appointments. One year they claim never to have been allowed out at all.

A committed conspiracy theorist, the Peruvian-born Oscar refuses to work. The only source of income is a government stipend their American mother Susanne receives for homeschooling the children.

With no access to the internet, the bright, articulate and creative boys entertainingly re-enact scenes from favourite films such as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

When one boy makes an illicit journey outside, it leads to their assuming increasing levels of independence.

There’s a lot of love, camaraderie and communal cooking. Their talent for mimicry asserts itself whenever they experience anxiety, seeking safety in the voices of favourite film characters.

When Oscar finally speaks on camera, he reveals himself as a pitiful person possessed of a paranoid philosophy, not the bogey-man we’ve been lead to imagine.

The Wolfpack seem to bear their parents little ill will. They’re remarkably well-adjusted for people prevented from mixing socially with anyone outside their immediate family.

Too little effort is made to tell the boys apart and there’s a failure to establish two of them are twins.

Plus we wonder how much influence the presence of the unseen documentarian is having on the behaviour of the family.

As they spread their wings and visit the cinema, the beach, the countryside, the narrative offered is suspiciously convenient for a filmmaker.

Susanne makes a phone call to her 88 year old mother, their first contact in 50 years. It seems particularly opportune rather than the organic result of a new era of domestic glasnost.

Plus the subjects’ sweet natures consistently neutralise the use of crashing guitar chords and Halloween imagery to convince us of a tragedy in progress.