As a parent, I can definitely understand the feeling that you sometimes want to squirrel your child away from the big bad world, and all of the stress, sadness and danger that comes with it. This is usually a fleeting feeling however as really, the world is where they learn about life and get to revel in its awesomeness as well as its hardships. You have to push them out there eventually, giving them the right tools for the job and valiantly hoping for the best. Peruvian-born Oscar Angulo clearly doesn’t agree with me however, and the life he created for his own children is presented on screen in tonight’s documentary, THE WOLFPACK.
THE WOLFPACK - which won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance – is directed by Crystal Moselle, and is sensitive in its approach as it tells the strange story of the seven Angulo siblings who, for 14 years, barely left their tiny apartment. Their American mother, Susanne, home-schooled her seven children: Bhagavan, twins Govinda and Narayana, Mukunda, Krisna (aka Glenn), Jagadesh (aka Eddie), and sister Visnu. “I went to school,” Susanne says in the film, to explain her decision, “and I realised a lot of socialisation was not positive.” Oscar, meanwhile, was seeking to protect his children from New York’s drugs and crime, but also comes across as quite the megalomaniac in his approach.
Confined to their New York apartment by their parents, the Angulo kids are left to learn about the world pretty much solely via their father’s (eclectic) movie collection. Locked away from society in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the brothers (and sister Visnu, who rarely features in the film) learn about the outside world through the films that they watch, and they spend their childhood and adolescence re-enacting their favourites using elaborate homemade props and costumes. This leads to some serious creativity (thumbs up to Oscar, Susanne and the kids for that, at least) and makes for the more lighthearted scenes in the film, which is a compelling watch.
The family was reportedly so reclusive that many neighbours in their block didn’t know they existed, and once the brood didn’t leave the apartment for a whole year. In the film we see home-video footage of some of the boys racing down the hall of their building on scooters, followed by another wearing skates. That hall was effectively their playground, and other children their age were never encountered. In other home footage, the camera zooms down to street level where the neighbourhood is teaming with kids walking round in carefully constructed Halloween costumes. Sixteen floors up, the Angulos are filming themselves making similar costumes and dressing up in them too, leading parallel lives. The two worlds rarely meet, which is just bizarre to believe but tragically true.
Their imprisonment via Oscar came to an end abruptly in April 2010 when Mukunda, then just 15, snuck out of the apartment and proceeded to roam the streets wearing a mask inspired by - bizarrely – ‘Halloween’ villain Michael Myers. Clearly drawing attention to himself by being costumed thus, he was arrested, taken to a nearby hospital, and returned home only after being assigned a therapist. The family is officially on record for perhaps the first time ever. The other brothers are buoyed by his tales of the outside world and soon vow to join him - their father could clearly no longer contain them.
Soon the young Angulos were venturing out together, walking the streets and hitting the beach, seemingly oblivious to their otherworldly appearance. Their initial getaway garb of choice was ties, dark clothes and sunglasses accessorised with their amazing waist-length hair – it’s Reservoir Dogs, Angulo-style.
As the documentary draws to a close we see the boys’ gradual assimilation into the world and by golly, it’s not bad at all. Rather than mucking it up entirely they seem to be taking things slowly but surely, and are sticking to the creative pursuits they know so well. The kids are alright, begging the question: was what Oscar did really such a bad thing? That dear watcher, is up to you to decide.
THE WOLFPACK premieres on Thursday 25th August on Rialto Channel 39