Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

As I’ve previously mentioned, there seems to be a string of good films coming out of New Zealand recently though their industry is still small enough that you quickly recognize the same familiar faces and names. Due to its title and it being directed by Taika Waititi, I honestly thought that this was another horror film. It turns out to be an adventure film with a heavy dose of humor.

Ricky Baker is an overweight juvenile delinquent who has been shuttled between various foster homes after being abandoned by his mother. The latest attempt by child services to find him a home sees him being placed with a couple Bella and Hec who live on a very remote farm. Bella seems friendly and sincere in making it work but Hec is taciturn and reluctant to engage with Ricky. He tries running away the very first night only to discover that there is nowhere to run to, and Bella easily finds him the next morning and brings him back. Over time, he warms to the family, especially after Bella gives him a pet dog as a birthday present. Unfortunately one day Bella dies suddenly and child services decide that Hec alone makes for an unsuitable parent. Ricky escapes into the bush and promptly gets lost. Hec tracks him down easily but by this time the rest of the world believes that Hec is a pedophile who has kidnapped Ricky.

In my defense, Waititi does pretend that it’s a horror film, at least at the beginning, and this is just part of what makes Hunt for the Wilderpeople so much fun. Good music figures into it as well and the breathtaking scenery never hurts. The heart and soul of the film however is the character of Ricky as played by Julian Dennison and his brand of humor. Dennison has real talent and is incredibly likable. I admit that I chortled at plenty of the jokes even if they aren’t exactly high-brow material. Sam Neill plays the standard crotchety old man and is less essential but it’s great to see him again as I don’t really recall him being in anything significant after Jurassic Park.

If this were an American film I would be inclined towards disliking it. As it is, the fact that it’s set in New Zealand gives it that extra bit of the exotic that brings it over the bar for me. I love all of the little bits of multiculturalism that’s casually tossed about everywhere and all of the interactions that remind us that this is very much not America. It’s not a particularly serious film and it’s not as clever as What We Do in the Shadows, but it’s a fun and entertaining watch and that’s good enough for me.

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