For many years, the six Angulo brothers – Bhagavan, Govinda, Jagadisa, Krsna, Mukunda, and Narayana lived in an apartment in a housing project on the Lower East Side in New York City. The brothers, who all sported waist-long jet black hair, were, for all intents and purposes, isolated from the outside world, confined exclusively to the living space they shared with their parents and sister. Certain years they would get to go outside less than ten times for the entire year, other years they didn’t get to go out at all. Even their educational needs were attended to by their mother, Susanne, a mid-western, former hippie, who homeschooled them. This allowed her to collect a check from the state of New York, and in turn, permitted their quasi, Hare Krishna worshiping father, Oscar, to imbibe in his alcohol consumption, and delusional thinking that he was somebody special.
Throughout the years, Oscar kept the door to the apartment locked at all times, so as to keep his children from venturing out onto the streets, where he felt they would immediately fall victim to crime and drugs; even Susanne was only permitted to leave the apartments on certain occasions. Oscar, who was Peruvian born, originally wanted to move his family to Scandinavia, but a lack of finances, and his own un-willingness to work, relying instead on handouts, kept that aspiration from becoming a reality. The brothers’ sister, Vishnu, was born with Turner syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects females. She only appears a handful of times throughout the film, and never speaks on camera.
One of the few passions the brothers were able to partake in was watching films, which, with the exception of a window that looked down upon the streets of their New York City neighborhood, became their primary access to the outside world. The boys, however, took their love for film a step further. They wouldn’t just watch one of the movies they had in their vast DVD collection, but instead would reenact them, incorporating as much detail as possible, which included memorizing dialogue, as well as making props and costumes, out of items such as cereal boxes and tin foil. Short snippets of the Angulo brothers acting out scenes from films such as “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” are interspersed between spoken commentary. Additional scenes in the documentary highlight outings that the brothers take, for example: a day at the beach, and a trip one evening to watch a movie in a theater on the big screen, which was a first for the brothers.
The documentary was directed by Crystal Moselle, who discovered the Angulo brothers by chance, during one of their few trips out walking together on the streets of Manhattan in 2010. If she hadn’t, the 90 minute film, which premiered on January 25, 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival where it received the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, more than likely would not have been made. Moselle first approached the brothers with questions, and a friendship soon began to form between her and the brothers over their mutual love of film. Prior to that encounter, if Mukunda hadn’t taken the initiative to leave the apartment on his own, when his father was out one day food shopping, the Angulo brothers might still be living in isolation, unless one of his other siblings, had taken the same chance at a later date.
Putting on a homemade mask, styled after horror icon Michael Myers, that the silent stalker is seen wearing throughout the Halloween film franchise, Mukunda left the apartment. He began walking around his immediate neighborhood, but it not being Halloween, the actions of the teenager aroused suspicion from those whose stores he went in and out of, eventually prompting the owner of a bodega to call the police. Mukunda was taken by authorities to Bellevue Hospital, where he was held for a week, during which time he was psychologically evaluated to determine if he was mentally ill. Afterward, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services investigated the living situation of all the Angulo children. A determination was made by child services that the three youngest brothers needed to meet with a psychologist, for a period of one year, at a non-profit facility located in their neighborhood. Mukunda’s act of defiance against his father’s rigid rules, prompted his other siblings to want to venture outside, and actually begin to live life for a change, not just vicariously experience it through film. The rest, as they say, is history, or in this case, visually documented history.