Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople ★★★★

Film #7 watched at the Las Vegas Film Festival 2016

One of the hottest commodities right now in New Zealand cinema is writer-director Taika Waititi, whose star has been rising since he burst onto the international scene at Sundance in 2007 and who is currently working on his first mega-blockbuster, "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017). This is his latest film, a comedy making the festival rounds since Sundance in January and scoring big by winning Audience Awards for Best Narrative Feature in Boston, San Francisco, Montclair and Wisconsin.

Young Julian Dennison is the star here. He plays Ricky Baker, a rebellious kid who steals, lies, vandalizes and bullies his way through New Zealand's social services system from one foster home to the next. Draconian case worker Paula Hall (Rachel House) finally lands him on the edge of of bush country with folksy Bella M. Faulkner (Rima Te Wiata) and her farmer-hunter husband Hector (Sam Neill) as the boy's last chance before juvenile prison.

The story is told in ten aptly labeled chapters covering about seven months, starting with "A Bad Egg" learning to fit within his new family. Later segments with titles like "Broken Foot Camp" follow Ricky and Uncle Hec as they become fugitives in a nationwide manhunt in the northern wilds after Bella suddenly dies one day. And it's all leading up to "War," when the authorities use technology to locate and corner their prey.

Ricky's fish-out-of-water personality is just hilarious as he must evolve from an adolescent "street gangsta" to a rifle-toting, nature-savvy survivalist. There's even a thrilling encounter with a wild boar the size of a bull. And among the human characters that the two "wilderpeople" encounter during their flight are three mean-spirited hunters, a diabetic forest ranger near death, a lovely horseback-riding teenager named Kahu (Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne) and the hermit known as Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby).

It's films like this that make festivals fun and exceptionally entertaining. See it for the humor. See it for the stunning landscapes. But see it, by all means!

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