MOVIE REVIEW: “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”
Foster child Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a bit of a ‘bad egg.’ He has been unable to find suitable foster care, that is, until he is taken in by Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband Hec (Sam Neill). Ricky finds himself in a loving home for the first time in his young life. When tragedy strikes, this situation changes, and now child services wants to take Ricky back. Not wanting to end up in juvie, Ricky runs away into the bush. Hec heads out after him, but after suffering an injury, he and Ricky are stranded until Hec heals. Child services assumes Hec has kidnapped Ricky, and a massive manhunt is unleashed to find the two.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi, who is the mastermind behind the wonderful vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is an utterly fantastic adventure dramedy about previously unwanted people finding a connection and finding their place in the world. It stars Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker, a 13-year-old kid who has been bounced from foster home to foster home due to his rebellious nature; it also doesn’t help that Ricky envisions and presents himself as a bit of a gangster. His last hope for a permanent home before ‘juvie’ is with Bella and Hec, a married couple living off the grid, played by Rima Te Wiata and Sam Neill. This pair live on a rural farm right outside the vast New Zealand bush. After a short time and a few attempts at running away, Bella and Ricky start to connect and he finally begins to feel at home with her. Hec is another story altogether. He keeps to himself and would rather be left alone. After tragedy strikes, Ricky is told he has to be returned to child services. In response to this, Ricky tries to fake his death and running away one final time. Hec follows Ricky into the bush, and after a few unfortunate incidents that prolong their stay in the wilderness, child services begins a massive countrywide manhunt for Ricky and Hec, who they now believe has kidnapped Ricky.
We are extremely impressed by “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” This is a truly spectacular film. From the moment it started, we knew we were in for an absolute treat from a visual, written, directorial, auditory, and acting standpoint. We have to give Julian Dennison props first and foremost. Dennison, a newcomer to the acting game, is excellent. Despite his character Ricky’s attempts at seeming like a hardcore gangster, Dennison manages to be wholly endearing and totally hilarious. We root for Ricky because he is clearly so adorable, and we get the sense early on because of his inconsistent upbringing, he just wants to be loved by someone. As for Sam Neill, he puts on a great performance as well. His character Hec is a grizzled old survivalist and just wants to be left alone in life. He and Ricky couldn’t be more different, but through their adventure and after being thrust apart when their lives get turned upside down, they start to reach a mutual understanding and have mutual respect for one another despite their differences. There are some stellar smaller performances as well. Rima Te Wiata is quite good in her more limited capacity as Bella, and Rachel House is fantastic as the persistent and determined Paula. House and Oscar Kightley, who plays Andy, have a ton of funny back and forth bantering sessions as they look for Hec and Ricky. Lastly, Rhys Darby, a Taika Waititi mainstay, plays a survivalist named Psycho Sam, who has lived in the bush for 15 years and is, well, a little psycho about the government. All in all, this cast comes together to make one magnificent team.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is a movie that made us laugh heaps, but it’s not just a comedy. It’s a compassionate, heartfelt drama, too, and it made us cry without ever feeling sappy or forced. Its message is tender and sweet, but it’s still able to maintain a balance between jokes and feels. This is due in large part to Waititi’s attention to detail in his well-crafted script, and in his movements behind the camera. This film will keep you completely engaged, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the final product. This is one of our favorite movies of 2016. People need to know and become familiar with the name Taika Waititi because he is a tremendous filmmaker. He is quickly becoming one of our favorite directors, and if his last couple of movies are any indication of his capabilities, we cannot wait to see what he has in store for “Thor: Ragnarok.” Our rating: 5/5.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is directed by Taika Waititi and stars Julian Dennison and Sam Neill. It is rated PG-13 for some language and some violent imagery.
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