New-Release Tuesday: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

Sam Neill just gets better and better.

This quiet but delightful New Zealand film from 2016 hits an awful lot of familiar notes: an odd couple comprised of a scrappy young kid and a grumpy old man (guess which one Neill plays) endures a series of escapades while forming a lasting bond. Yes, you’ve seen that story before.

But writer-director Taika Waititi serves up so many unexpected treats in this story. At its core is an unlikely hero in Ricky Baker, a disaffected urban boy bounced from foster home to foster home due to his tendency to run away–and do other horrible things like spitting, throwing rocks, and spraying grafitti. Yup. He’s a boy.

Finally he ends up at the edge of the New Zealand jungle with Hector and Bella because “there’s nobody else who wants you,” as his police caseworker tells him. Out there, his futile attempts at running away only earn him Bella’s good-humored sympathy and Hec’s gruff indifference. Gradually he settles in, listening to Bella’s yarns about her connection to “the Wilderpeople,” and falls in love with the farm.

Events do finally push Ricky into the wilderness, though, and Hec reluctantly follows to rescue him… and this is where the conventionality of the story sets in. This is also where the movie gets consistently surprising, though, as Ricky and Hec’s months as man-hunt fugitives turn into a down-under survival tale. Sam Neill so thoroughly disappears into the role that you forget who you’re watching–and young Julian Dennison as Ricky really shines. Perfect casting, and great performances.

And, at the end of the day, it’s not young Ricky who needs saving.

What a nice reminder for us aging grumps.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is now included with your Hulu subscription. You can also find it on YouTube and on Amazon for a small fee.