“Some years we went outside nine times, some years only once. One year, we didn’t go out at all.”
That’s the childhood memory shared by Mukunda, Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Krsna, Jagadisa and their sister Visnu — seven children raised and schooled behind the locked doors of their four-bedroom New York flat and the subject of a debut documentary by Crystal Moselle that stormed Sundance this year.
During 14 years of captivity, the only window the Angulo siblings had into the outside world was their movie collection.
To fill the days, they’d film themselves reenacting entire sequences from favourites such as Reservoir Dogs or The Dark Knight in meticulous detail — footage we see peppered through the documentary to get a vivid insight into their insular and under-stimulated early lives.
Moselle begins interviewing them later (after a chance encounter on the street), at the point when the older brothers have reached adolescence and, inevitably, rebelled and started going outside. She quietly follows them: a strange looking gang with hair down to their waists, permanently wearing sunglasses as they gingerly explore the streets of New York. They are sweet natured but undeniably odd, speaking in strangely detached full sentences and sticking close together.
Answers to the film’s burning question — just what the hell were the parents thinking? — are cleverly withheld until the end, when we meet their boozy, hippie-ish father Oscar and hear him attempt to justify an approach to parenting that, while cruel, grew from fears all parents can relate to. At a time when the biggest anxiety we have about our children is whether they are too exposed to the wider world thanks to the digital age, it’s grimly fascinating watching a brood brought up at the opposite extreme.
It’s one of the strangest and most memorable documentaries of the year, leaving you to hope Moselle revisits her subjects as adults in 10 years or so, to see how this bizarre social experiment ends.
The Wolfpack is out on 21 August