Film

The Wolfpack movie review

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In a gloomy apartment a handful of young men in black suits and white shirts wave around fake guns, addressing each other with names such as Mr White and Mr Pink. One wonders aloud whether he is “the only goddamn professional here”. Film buffs will have no trouble spotting the reference: this is a scene from Reservoir Dogs.
If this re-enactment were watched around the time of the release of director Michel Gondry’s 2008 comedy Be Kind Rewind, it’d be probably be thought of as an example of “sweding” — a term Gondry’s film coined to describe people remaking classic movies with whatever tools are at their disposal. In a sense it is, though the DIY filmmaking captured in director Crystal Moselle’s documentary takes on a great deal more pathos than screwy backyard homages.
The six men re-enacting the film have grown up on a diet of Hollywood movies. Moselle met them by chance, as they were walking down a street in Manhattan kitted up in Dogs-like outfits. She befriended them and learned about their past, the telling of which forms the heart of her impressive debut feature film, which won the Jury Prize at this year’s 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The Wolfpack is a tribute of sorts to film’s ability to inspire, as well a behavioural study of lives raised in highly unorthodox circumstances.
The boys (and their one sister) were home schooled with ultra-protective parents who rarely permitted them to leave their Lower East Side apartment. The filmmaker met them when they were between the age of 11 and 18. One explains that they were encouraged to never look at another person and that they left their dingy abode “sometimes nine times a year, sometimes once. And one particular year we never got out at all”.
Comments like that give extra weight to the Hollywood re-enactment scenes; we understand they appreciate movies on a level few others could attest to share. The Wolfpack’s examination of movie fandom — in a sense they are the ultimate fanboys — feels startlingly fresh and original, borne from true stranger-than-fiction form.
When one of the subjects recounts the story of how one day he escaped the apartment and walked around the neighbourhood wearing a mask (Michael from Halloween) wondering whether bullets could harm him, you get a sense of the enormity of the mental space Moselle has stumbled upon and some of the complicated psychological issues at play.
The Wolfpack is too respectful of its subjects to probe them greatly; there is a sense the filmmaker is tip-toeing and treading gently, almost certainly necessary in order to evoke such candid responses. The father of the family, who prides himself on being an “influencer” and literally holds the only key to the front door, hangs around the peripheries of the film, appearing mostly towards the end.
For a while it feels like he may not be a part of it, but there he is — a strange, potentially dangerous and potentially mentally unwell individual, though not somebody Moselle is prepared to cross-examine or put under the microscope. Focus remains on recounting the family’s story in respectful detail and with a strong sense of character and place.
Talent-wise the family is a great get, and the children’s experience in acting and performing no doubt helped equip them for what would perhaps become their ultimate starring role.
“This is like 3D man,” one of the brothers exclaims as they walk through a public park, another comparing their surroundings to locations in Lord of the Rings. Moselle’s cameras capture a number of firsts, including a trip to the beach and to the cinema, where the boys are delighted that some of their money might be going to support actors and creatives.
There’s a zillion ideas swirling around here, but the director’s approach is far from academic. The Wolfpack is low-fi, personal and modestly designed, like a long and detailed home video. It is a remarkable story and — among other, deeper things — a fascinating and unusual case study in film appreciation.

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