A disturbing but affectionate documentary about six brothers held captive in their Manhattan home

Meet the Angulo family. They are six brothers, with long dark hair and peculiar teeth. Their younger sister Vishnu, whom we barely see, looks very much like them, too. For a simple reason, Crystal Moselle’s documentary The Wolfpack spends the vast majority of its running time inside their cramped apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The reason is that they've barely ever left it themselves.

Raised by their Peruvian father Oscar, a hard-line former Hare Krishna with alcoholic tendencies, and their meek ex-hippie mother, a midwesterner called Susanne, the Angulo siblings have been home-schooled to within an inch of their lives. In an average year, we're told, they might emerge for fresh air half a dozen times, or maybe once. And there was one year when they never came out at all.

Moselle’s film doesn’t reveal how she came to gain access to this dingy, underfurnished lair, but the story is this: on one of the brothers’ rare outings, she happened to notice six teenage boys running past her, all wearing shades and dressed like the characters from Reservoir Dogs. This, it transpires, is their great communal hobby – endlessly watching Hollywood movies, making DIY props, and filming their own cover versions.

The Wolfpack dress as characters from Reservoir Dogs Credit: Magnolia Pictures

The boys struck up a friendship with the filmmaker and let her in. Given their strict approach to parenting, how Oscar and Susanne ever allowed them to assemble their video library of mostly violent genre flicks is a reasonable question, and one of quite a handful that remain unanswered.

But Moselle has met this tribe at a point where the power is shifting inside their home – away from the deluded, enfeebled Oscar, whom she inches towards interviewing, and into the hands of his older children as they make a bid for independence. Fiercely protective of their mother, they’ve never been able to release her from this dictator’s clutches: Susanne talks cagily about how the “rules” for her, if anything, have kept her even more tightly under Oscar’s thumb.

Watching the film, at first, is a deeply uncomfortable experience – as with finding yourself among strangers, and strange strangers at that, inside any crowded home, you have no idea what energies might be unleashed, or whether the very presence of the camera could spark a disturbing confrontation. But Moselle’s affection for these tough-talking whelps brings you gradually, optimistically, inside their world of gritty make-believe, and you root for them to take their lives conclusively into their own hands.