The Wolfpack
3.6Overall Score

Despite the title given to the group of brothers at the heart of this documentary, there’s nothing predatory or functional about them. The name ‘Wolfpack’ could almost be seen as a jibe, but is most certainly ironic in that none of them would have the experiences or ability to undertake anything approaching the most basic of social interactions. The group of brothers (and not forgetting their youngest sibling, their sister, who features briefly) have been home-schooled all their lives and, more than that, have been confined to their New York apartment, leaving no more than a handful of times each year throughout their youth. The Wolfpack introduces the family to us at a time where the oldest brother has taken moves to break free of the stricture imposed by their father.”

There is an unnerving, unsettling feeling to most of what we witness. The brothers are by and large articulate, bordering on self-aware, and comfortable talking to the camera. They remain pleasant and positive when describing and reflecting on their reality, and how they process their relationships with their parents. Home video footage of the many hours spent locked in the apartment demonstrate the key part that movies and their re-enactment came to play in their lives. The scripts they know by heart, the outfits they create through smart recycling, and the props they design are all for movies steeped in violence and dark themes; you can’t help but wonder what jaundiced view they have created of the world. Their reality elicits a cross-section of feelings; the audience might expect resentment and anger to seep through – they sit in shaded, shabby rooms all day and only seem to view the city outside at night through barriers. Instead, we are treated to wide-eyed views of their brief trips out and real creativity and resourcefulness in their behaviour. Their lifestyle has drawn the attention of the authorities in the past but none to the extent that has led to any change; perhaps the great struggle of watching and looking to understand is that the family members seem to willingly comply with their confinement.

It’s difficult not be infuriated and bemused by what justification we do hear from the father; his level of English gives him little ability to articulate any sort of real rationale. We meet the father late in the documentary, at which point the potency of his hold on the family has been set out – when we finally do get to hear from him he comes across as a truly pitiful character. This approach might seem to have set him up for a fall, but ultimately his few words make you wonder all the more about how this family works. There’s no information on how this documentary came about and how such access was agreed but it seems consent must have been crucial. The mother of the house is perhaps the most tragic character we meet; she’s clear on the reality surrounding her, but trapped all the same for the majority of her life. No one seems clear on the state of their lives; old footage lingers on close-up views of faces but little emerges from behind those eyes.
The documentary ultimately offers as many questions as answers; despite their receptiveness we do only get an illicit snapshot into their lives and there seems to be much untold. As with any documentary, you can’t help but wonder if the makers have left us short-changed in their work; there’s even a suggestion the documentary could have been a prompt for more trips out so that we don’t really know what the family would have been like in their natural state.

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