What is it about New Zealand? The country has made an indelible mark on geek culture with the works of Peter Jackson (the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies) the quirky horror comedy Housebound, and several others. Now, New Zealand native Taika Waititi (co-director of What We Do in the Shadows) emerges with Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a crowd-pleasing marvel that will hit the sweet spot for geeks weaned on movies like The Goonies and Adventures in Babysitting.
The unusual plot concerns foster kid Ricky (a terrific Julian Dennison), who winds up on the run with his stern stepfather Hec (the always welcome Sam Neill) in the wilds of New Zealand. They are pursued by a social worker whose nastiness grows more and more obvious as the chase gets more extreme.
Waititi proves himself a talent to watch. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a juggling act blending tones and genres; it’s got emotional, character-driven moments as well as wacky comedy and bracing action. It’s a tricky balance, but Waititi pulls it off. The film makes terrific use of gorgeous New Zealand locations and benefits immensely from its cast. There’s not a weak link in the bunch, with Housebound’s Rima Ti Wiata a standout as Ricky’s loving foster mom and cult fave Rhys Darby (The X Files’ “Weremonster” episode) in a memorable appearance as a kooky survivalist.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a love letter to fans with its sly references to genre milestones and endearing characters in outlandish scenarios. It’s a movie that deserves to be on your radar.
Quality: 5 out of 5 stars
Queerness: 0, but nobody's perfect