Photo of the Angulos courtesy of “The Wolfpack” film.
A new documentary gives a glimpse into family life so out of the norm, its director has described feeling like she “discovered a long-lost tribe from the Amazon” regarding the day she first found her subjects. But the Angulo family, consisting of Susanne and Oscar and their seven children, was living right in downtown New York City when Crystal Moselle ran into some of them one afternoon back in 2010. She eventually was granted access to their lives, and her film, “The Wolfpack,” screened at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday. It has since given rise to fascination and skepticism about the Angulo kids’ upbringing — one of control and imprisonment, juxtaposed with exposure to some of the worst examples of societal norms.
“Six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a Manhattan housing project,” notes the website for the film (which focuses on the boys, although one of the children is a girl). “All they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively (and recreate meticulously). Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning world.”
The bizarre story, in a nutshell, is this: Moselle met and befriended the six brothers — then aged 11 to 18 — while they were on one of their extremely rare excursions outside of their apartment. “I was their first friend, and I think they were as fascinated by me as I was by them,” the director told the New York Times. “Slowly their mom warmed up. The dad was definitely a roller coaster.” He keeps the apartment door locked at all times and is the only one with a key. Though he doesn’t appear much in “The Wolfpack,” viewers learn that he is a Peruvian immigrant and Hare Krishna devotee. He’s depicted as a paranoid man with an alcohol problem who believes his children will be “contaminated” if they are set free into the streets of NYC.
Oddly enough, when they were not being homeschooled by their mother, the brood — brothers Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krisna, and Jagadesh, and their sister, Visnu — was allowed to watch movies nonstop, providing a rather twisted view of the world outside. “It’s fascinating what the human spirit does when it’s confined,” Moselle said. “The downside to all the movies — and they have seen, like, 5,000 — is that there are certain formulas to them. Real life is different. In real life, the girl doesn’t always break your heart. The boys are still struggling to understand that.”
The Angulo boys at the Sundance screening. Photo by Instagram.
The sensitive siblings (all but one of whom still live at home) appear to adore their mother, who is also presented as being controlled, according to the New York Times. “We wanted to tell the truth without making too many judgments,” the director noted. “Believe me, I could have really gone off on the guy” she added, referring to the father. But, she added, “The thing is, these brothers are some of the most gentle, insightful, curious people I’ve ever met. Something was clearly done right.”
Moselle did not respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comments, and the film’s publicists said the family members “are not available for interviews.” When reached by the New York Times, though, Susanne and one of the brothers conceded that the film was accurate. And the boys — now young men — were, oddly enough, present for the documentary’s premiere at Sundance on Sunday.
Clinical psychologist and adolescent expert Barbara Greenberg, for one, found the family tale disturbing (though she’s not yet watched the film). “This is exactly how not to raise kids, and is clearly a case of neglect, based on what we know,” she tells Yahoo Parenting, forming her opinion from what she’s read about the Angulos so far (and government agencies have gotten involved recently, according to the New York Times article). “They’re being raised with fear and isolation, and the inherent message is that it’s not safe to leave the house. Then, on the opposite side, they’re watching films that probably reinforce the feeling that the world is not a safe place. I would predict they’ll have tremendous separation-anxiety feelings, and that they’re going to approach the world with tremendous fear and a lack of trust. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”