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Hunt for the Wilderpeople - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
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Hunt for the Wilderpeople
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Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+



There's a very different sensibility and tone to Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a comedy from New Zealand about a so-called "bad egg" of a kid, Ricky (Julian Dennison), and his foster parent, Hector (Sam Neill), who are on the run from a national manhunt as they hide in the bush near Hector's farm. Directed and co-written by Taika Waititi, who also did last year's What We Do in the Shadows, it's also wildly different in tone from his previous work. There's a specificity to this movie that's hard to put your finger on. It's clearly borne of a different culture. But it's a very inviting one, even if it's occasionally almost pointedly corny. And sometimes has a synth-heavy score that makes it feel weirdly like an eighties movie.

None of it looks like a movie from a different time, though. Ricky, for his part, is a little stuck on his perception of American "thug" culture. He names his dog Tupac and wants desperately to look like a badass. But, after having trouble being placed in other homes, he's taken to Hector and his wife, Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Bella does most of the caring for Ricky at first. Really, she does all of it. And anyway, I don't want to reveal too much about how Hector and Ricky wind up on the run, as it would spoil too much. But suffice it to say that most of the story takes place in an environment mostly devoid of technology, whether on the farm or in the bush. There is a kind of funny scene of Ricky dancing to his headphones in the woods.

That's the thing about New Zealand, though. It's one of the few places in the world where most of the country is untouched by the perils of growing civilization. You don't have to go far to find beautiful landscapes, which are here captured with ease. The kid is still at the ready with his pop culture references. He even acknowledges how one scene, in which he and Hector are hiding under some branches as the authorities pass by overhead, echoes one in The Lord of the Rings.

Ricky, a portly, sneering young teenager, and Hector, a quiet old man, certainly make an odd pair. Ricky isn't as mean as he wants to be, of course. Neither is Hector, for that matter. Okay, so the developing relationship between these two characters is fairly predictable. The circumstances they find themselves in are not. Child Services is who they are on the run from, but mostly Ricky; at first Hector is ready to give him back, but he trips and sprains his ankle while deep in the bush, stranding them both out there for a bit. I can't say this story is all that realistic, but obviously Taika Waititi isn't particularly trying for it to be. The Child Services duo heading the pursuit are characterized as comic relief buffoons.

You definitely have to have an appreciation for cornball humor to appreciate this movie. For me, it's about how the cornball humor is done. Even that cane done well. This worked for me. More importantly, even within that context, the main characters are fairly well rounded. The supporting characters not so much, but you can't have everything. Overall, Hunt for the Wilderpeople warms your heart if you just give your heart over to it. Sam Neill in particular anchors it with his subtle performance. And Julian Dennison is kind of irresistible as Ricky. Occasionally he's even adorable, which is an impressive feat for any 13-year-old. The two of them make for a movie that's fun for both them and the audience.

Sam Neill and Julian Dennison are the odd couple hunted in HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE.


Overall: B+
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