The Wolfpack is a strange documentary; it tells the story of six siblings who have been confined to their tiny apartment by their paranoid, possibly delusional father for nearly fifteen years. They’ve learned about the outside world through movies – they’ve watched movies like Reservoir Dogs and The Fighter so many times that they’ve transcribed them into script form, fashioned their own costumes and props and reenacted them for their old-school video camera. The film is an odd beast; Moselle met the siblings after she spotted the six of them, dressed in suits, ties and Reservoir Dog style sunglasses, all with waist length hair, stalking down the street. Their lives soon unfolded into this film and it’s quite a disturbing look at mental illness and the difficulty of gaining or regaining a grip on reality when one is lost in a fantasy world. The kids are out of the apartment physically, but not really emotionally or spiritually when the film begins and the movie is a raw, very uncomfortable look at the painful awkwardness of these young men raised in intense isolation. When it brings in the parents as well, the film becomes downright cringe-inducing.
There are moments when I understood what people mean when they say sometimes documentaries are exploitative. No wonder people are comparing this to Grey Gardens. Sometimes, it felt like the filmmakers were exploiting the mental illnesses of these people for the purposes of their film for certain. The filmmakers have a way of shifting tone at a second’s notice and it’s more than a little unsettling. There are moments when you understand that you’re watching a person with severe mental problems struggling to relate to reality and then half a second later, that tragic moment has been dissolved into uncomfortable laughter. There’s, for example, a moment late in the film that’s genuinely tragic, very poignant and quite movingly sad; but the moment is literally still going on (you can hear the talking continue in the soundtrack) when the camera does a whip-pan to capture what’s happening at a desk nearby and it’s the funniest shot in the entire film and I literally burst out laughing. And the movie is not a hopeful tale of triumph over harsh circumstances. There’s a moment late in the film when the movie has reached a kind of hopeful zenith and it genuinely feels uplifting for a hot second; and then there’s a dead-pan cut to a shot of one of the characters in a situation so humiliating it beggars description. In short, this movie is extraordinarily troubling and I walked out of the theater just feeling a sort of perfect storm of emotions, utterly conflicted, confused and disturbed. The final scene isn’t just ambiguous; it’s genuinely kind of terrifying and painful to watch. The Wolfpack . . . well, it’s a movie that’s going to haunt me for some time I think and it’s maybe the best documentary I’ve seen this year. It’s not an easy sit and it raises more questions than it answers about this strange, troubled & troubling family, but it’s kind of a must see for those exact reasons. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – strange, unsettling, haunting documentary about six brothers kept in intense isolation for fifteen years by their paranoid father evokes a perfect storm of conflicting emotions and discomfort in the viewer. 4 stars.