“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” takes the audience on a rollicking yet poignant journey through the New Zealand backcountry.
Laugh-out-loud funny one minute, achingly sad the next, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” takes the audience on a rollicking yet poignant journey through the New Zealand backcountry in the company of a pair of engagingly eccentric characters.
One is a pudgy, troubled city kid named Ricky (Julian Dennison) who’s been nothing but trouble for most of his 13 years on the planet. Arson, tagging, spitting are just a few of the transgressions that have had him bouncing from foster home to foster home until he fetches up at a ramshackle farm deep in the mountains that a no-nonsense child-protective services lady (Rachel House) assures him is the last stop before juvenile hall.
The other main character is a grouchy old graybeard named Hec (Sam Neill), husband of the down-to-earth mistress of the place, Bella (Rima Te Wiata), who encourages the lad to call her Aunty.
Movie Review ★★★★
‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople,’ with Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House. Written and directed by Taika Waititi. 101 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content, and for some language. Sundance Cinemas (21+)
From her, the kid finds acceptance and love, two things Ricky’s never known in his short life. He comes out of his shell.
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But then all too quickly she exits the story, and Ricky and Hec are thrown uncomfortably together, and then, through a misadventure — let’s call it arson — the two of them wind up on the run through the lush woods with a nationwide manhunt organized to track them down. Seems the authorities think Hec has kidnapped the kid.
New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi seamlessly switches up emotional beats throughout the picture, offering a heart-rending scene of a man wailing with grief that is beyond words to express and later serving up a comic passage featuring a cheery, garrulous lunatic capering through the woods disguised as a bush.
Waititi’s writing is strong and the picture’s characters are wonderfully distinctive. Dennison is a real find, navigating Ricky’s complex emotional depths with seemingly effortless ease.
Neill gives an understated portrayal of a capable but damaged woodsman. And the female characters are extraordinarily well-realized, with Te Wiata stealing every scene she’s in, playing a woman with a mischievous sense of humor and a kind heart.