“Up” set in New Zealand? This is going to be awesome.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople stars, Julian Dennison (Shopping, Paper Planes), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Event Horizon), Rachel House (Whale Rider, Eagle vs Shark), Rima Te Wiata (Sons and Daughters, Housebound) and is written and directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Eagle vs Shark).

Ricky (Dennison) is a troubled teenager and has been to many foster parents but none have been able to control his behavior. Until Hec (Neill) and Bella (Wiata) take him in. It doesn’t take long for tragedy to ensue, leaving Ricky and Hec to go on adventure through the New Zealand bush.

So despite knowing very little about this film, I was pumped to go see it and wasn’t disappointed. Coming of Age might be my favorite genre because every year my favorite films are filled with them and I’m sure Hunt for the Wilderpeople will be in this years top ten. I’ve got a lot to gush about with this film, so lets get into it.

Admittedly I haven’t seen any of the directors previous film. Over the last few years I’ve heard his name and his films mentioned a lot but no more than in 2015 with What We Do in the Shadows. I’ll be sure to get on those films soon because he has done incredible work with this film. What stuck out to me, was the humor. With the exception of one character, Waititi does a difficult job of balancing the ridiculous, sometimes farcical comedy with just the right amount of seriousness and complexity. This film is so much fun to watch, can get silly but will still affect you on a personal level. Taika Waititi does a tremendous job of blending the tones together and creating a cohesive piece of art.

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Something else Waititi managed to do which is almost always impossible, is make a predictable story, that you can spell out about 10 minutes in but it doesn’t matter. When you take a grumpy old man, put him with an annoying teenager he hates, in the middle of a forest you know where it’s eventually going to end up. Even so, with the offbeat humor, likable characters, excellent performances you can’t help but be engage and thoroughly entertained throughout. Usually I would say cliche and formulaic as a negative but strangely enough it works in this films favor.

Primarily, the two characters you follow are Ricky and Hec played by Sam Neill and Julian Dennison. Dennison is practically an unknown (he’s only appeared in a couple of small indie films) and he’s a delightful surprise in this film. He’s annoying and whiny in the perfect way to bounce off Neill’s unapproachable, grumpy Uncle Hec. Sam Neill puts in maybe his best performance ever. He’s tough and unlikable but like all these kind of films, the more layers you learn about him, the more complex the character becomes. As this film goes along and Hec starts opening himself up, Neill gets more emotional and powerful in very subtle ways. Maybe it’s because Sam Neill has always reminded me of my dad so I already have an attachment to every character he plays but this role became something I was truly invested by the end. Also, shoutout to Psycho Steve, that guy was great.

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Talking about emotions, the beginning of this film rips your heart out. No spoilers but when a film comes close to making you cry before the opening act has finished, you know it’s doing something right. Hunt for the Wilderpeople grabbed me early on, ripped me apart and then pulled me back in with a wonderful, satisfying conclusion. It has a lot of varied emotions but by the end you’ll leave happy knowing you spent your time on an excellent film.

Peter Jackson has shown us, New Zealand is a beautiful place and although the breathtaking visuals don’t blow you away like they did in The Lord of the Rings, they play a big part in telling the story. Like Sam Neill’s performances, the cinematography and setting is actually subtle. There’s only a few sweeping shots of New Zealand but it’s always in the background, giving a unique, beautiful backdrop to the story being told.

There was one scene and one character that I wan’t too fond of. The zany, wacky humor I really like but in two spots I thought it failed. There’s a very sad scene early on and I was pulled out of it by a wrongly placed character played by Waititi. Then there’s the child services lady played by Rachel House. I hated this character and performance. Rachel House was over the top and not funny. This film hits everything out of the park comedy-wise except for that one particular scene and character.

Also it does slow down somewhere in the middle when Ricky meets a girl and we wonder away from his relationship with Hec but you do get a hilarious selfie scene, so I can’t complain too much.

I really enjoyed Hunt for the Wilderpeople, this is a film I could watch over and over again and plan to.

9.5/10

Have you seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople and what did you think about it?

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