64. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I have a soft spot for anyone who was in Jurassic Park.  It’s my favorite movie.  It’s the movie that made me love movies.  It’s the reason I’m doing this.  So, I’m likely to catch a movie starring Sam Neill, especially if the role in any way appears reminiscent of Alan Grant.  I’m also interested in seeing some work by Taika Waititi, since he’s directing Thor: Ragnarok and will be the next person who gets his hands on my favorite fictional character from any medium, the Hulk.  I also saw the trailer for Wilderpeople before Café Society and it was tremendous.  So, Hunt for the Wilderpeople was holding many curiosities for me and I was glad to see it pop up within driving distance.

The premise is that a boy and his foster father get lost in the woods and the longer they’re missing, the worse it gets for them.  I’ll let you discover for yourself how they get to that point and what happens from there.

That process of discovery is a wonderful experience.  Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a Life Movie that reeks of sincerity and honesty.  Sam Neill of course doesn’t disappoint.  In some ways, as I alluded to a few moments ago, his character, Hector, echoes Alan Grant from Jurassic Park, so the casting is perfect.  And I’m not sure there’s another actor out there who can play grizzled-but-lovable the way that Sam Neill can.  Despite the complexities of the role, Neill makes it look easy as Hector puts a wall up between himself and the world and Neill demands that the viewer long for him to break it down.

Neill’s costar, Julian Dennison is a relative newcomer and this part of Ricky is the role that will put him on the map.  He plays the perfect insecure preteen and has amazing comic timing for one so young and inexperienced.  He’ll lead your heart around like the Pied Piper and make you forget that he’s just an actor.  Endearing and heartbreaking, Dennison’s performance carries a significant portion of the film’s weight and it stands tall next to that of Sam Neill.

At its heart, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a film about identity.  There exists a deep divide between who each character in the film tries to be and who they actually are.  And these false fronts are erected due to the absence of love from their lives.  When one feels unloved, they will often create a new personality for themselves.  They do it to mask the pain.  They do it because they feel like they aren’t good enough as they are.  They do it because they feel like their true self doesn’t deserve to exist.  This is going on all over this film – certainly with each of the primaries – and the charades only end if and when love reenters their lives.

Director Taika Waititi really outdoes himself with Hunt for the Wilderpeople.  Waititi has impeccable instincts as he never forces anything and just allows the film to happen.  The drama is powerful but not overbearing.  The comedy is natural and not contrived.  The performances are entertaining but not over-the-top.  In fact, they’re delicately nuanced as the characters struggle to maintain their protective barriers and keep their true selves locked away.

I find that aspect particularly noteworthy as Waititi is currently hard at work on Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok.  What’s the connection between that film and this one?  Well, where did we leave off in Thor: The Dark World?  We left off with Loki pretending to be someone he’s not, all because he never felt loved.  And what about the Hulk, Thor’s costar in the film?  Is there any character in history more repressed?  Nobody tries to keep their true self locked away more than Bruce Banner!  And there, we’ve come full circle.  So, with those very similar themes, I expect some good Hulk and Loki work to come about in next year’s Thor film and even though Wilderpeople hadn’t been released when Waititi was chosen to helm it, I have full confidence that Marvel made the perfect choice.  But not only do I expect good things from that film, but from Waititi’s entire career.  With all of the geek references to other films in Wilderpeople, it’s obvious that he loves movies.  And it’s a pure joy to watch movies that are made by people who love movies.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a punch to the gut, a feather to the funny bone, and a warm blanket for the heart.  It’s a movie for people who love movies.  It’s a movie for people who like to laugh at life.  And it’s a movie for people who might feel a bit lost.  It’s nice not to feel so alone.  Hunt for the Wilderpeople is masterful and must-see for film fans.  So, to finish . . . a haiku:

If you don’t go see
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
You won’t get this joke

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