Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Hunt for the Wilderpeople</strong> (2016)

(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) On paper, the premise of Hunt for the Wilderpeople sounds like it leads directly to the dullest film imaginable—some kind of heartwarming bonding thing between a disaffected teenager and his foster father set in the woods of New Zealand. But it’s all in the execution, and considering that it’s from writer/director Taika Waititi (who has achieved considerable name recognition lately thanks to This is What we Do in the Shadows and Thor: Ragnarok), it deserves a good look. The first few minutes aren’t that impressive, with a disaffected teenager being welcomed on a farm by a couple of older foster parents. But the film does get crazier and funnier at it goes on, as the teenager’s attempt to run away gets more complicated when his foster father tracks him down, gets injured and the whole thing becomes a national manhunt. The climax is straight out of action blockbusters (albeit tempered by a limited budget), which is not necessarily something that we could have predicted from the quiet onset. There’s a unique comic sensibility to the result, not necessarily based on slapstick or one-liners (although “Skuxx life!” does have its charm), but on off-beat gradual character development and a strong emotional arc. Sam Neill is up to his usual high standards as the foster father, while Julian Dennison is a revelation as the teen protagonist, and Rachel House is hilarious as an overzealous child services officer. It’s another strong comedy from the New Zealand scene—and I was gobsmacked, having spent all of four days in the country, to actually recognize the Auckland train station. It’s a surprisingly engaging film, and a quiet little success in its own right. [March 2019: … and now I see the similarities with Waititi’s earlier Eagle vs. Shark]

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