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COURTESY OF Magnolia pictures

Narayana Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo, Bhagavan Angulo, Mukunda Angulo and Krsna Angulo in The Wolfpack, a Magnolia Pictures release.

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★★★★✩

The Wolfpack

Directed by Crystal Moselle

Rated R

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Oscar and Susanne Angulo were terrified of living in New York City — terrified of the government, and terrified that their children wouldn’t learn to think for themselves and would be bullied into using drugs. Oscar forbade his children to leave the apartment or to have contact with anyone outside of their immediate family. He believed that employment would make him a slave, so the household’s only income was what Susanne received from the government for teaching her homeschooled children. Oscar imposed strict rules on the family’s life in isolation, going so far as to specify which rooms of the house the kids could occupy at any given time. In one particularly heartbreaking scene, Susanne hints that the rules were even more oppressive for her (if one can imagine such a thing), and the children reveal that their mother had suffered violent abuse at the hands of her husband. Perhaps the only thing the kids liked about their dad was that he brought thousands and thousands of movies into the home for them to watch and memorize (some of their favorites include Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and The Dark Knight).

I’ll admit, I love movies. I’m always up for a classic film, an unconventional indie production, or even the cheesiest of special-effects-bloated popcorn movies. That said, I would go crazy if movies were the only thing I had to occupy my time. The Angulo children were film aficionados like no others. They spent their days and nights consuming movies, drawing movie posters, and meticulously copying down lines from their favorites so they could construct scripts to act out with the many (convincing) props they created. Movies and their mother were among the few things these kids had to help them stay sane.

The Wolfpack is mesmerizing but not because it has stunning cinematography or dazzling effects: the footage is grainy, resembling home movies. Moselle’s camera is surprisingly non-judgemental, especially considering that the film’s subject matter screams “child abuse” and “domestic violence.” Nevertheless, I couldn’t look away, and each cut felt like a cliffhanger, leaving me with questions that I had faith the filmmaker would answer (or at the very least, acknowledge). However, the documentary leaves many questions unanswered, and I couldn’t help but wonder why this family would volunteer to put their life on display considering the legal and moral questions the film was bound to raise. In a press release, Moselle claims that she never felt the need to intervene, and that she sincerely believed that the children were well cared for. Perhaps the idea that all is well in the Angulo household is more clear to her than to the average viewer — she did spend years with the family — but a little on-camera reassurance (perhaps by a lawyer) would’ve made me feel slightly less uneasy.

Regardless, this documentary is fascinating and will keep your attention throughout. The film’s subject matter is intriguing, uncomfortable, and has an almost dystopian flavor. It forces the viewer to weigh the importance of intentions versus the reality of outcomes, and much like the brothers in the Angulo family, viewers have to learn to think for themselves when faced with these considerations. While the documentary ends on a happy note, it leaves the viewer eager for a sequel.