Thursday, August 4, 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Review

It's been a summer stuffed full of attempted blockbusters, sequels, remakes, action movies, and all that fun stuff that summer offers. If I were to describe this particular summer in one word, that word would be underwhelming. There were so many movies that looked intriguing that just failed. And there were quite a few box office flops because of that. After all of this exposure to all of these huge films, many of which were disappointing, I was ready for something small and refreshing. So I took a trip out to a local indie movie theater that I love and was prepared to enjoy myself. I had several options, but I decided to check out one of the best-reviewed indie movies year, that being Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I didn't know much about this outside the fact that it boasted a 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes out of 122 reviews. That's 121 positive reviews and only one negative review. Granted, Rotten Tomatoes isn't the end all, say all. Just this past month I enjoyed several movies that Rotten Tomatoes has labeled as rotten and wasn't a fan of a couple that were officially certified fresh. But when I see the big 99 in front of a movie on the site, that gets my attention and is enough to get me to the theaters. And do you know what? There's a reason why this has such a high score. It's rather fantastic!

So what is this movie exactly? Well, first off it's the fourth feature-length movie by director Taiki Waititi, who previously directed Eagle vs. Shark, Boy, and What We Do in the Shadows. If you've never heard of any of those, Marvel has tapped him to direct Thor: Ragnarok, which will hit theaters at the end of next year. Hunt for the Wilderpeople stars Jurassic Park's Sam Neill (Dr. Alan Grant) and essentially introduces us to 14-year-old Julian Dennison. Sam Neill plays a grumpy old man who is married to this loving lady who would probably be everyone's best friend. They live out in the country in New Zealand and decide to take in a foster kid named Ricky, who is a troubled kid that has been in and out of foster care due to him being abandoned by his mother and thus has committed all sorts of crimes because he really hasn't had a proper upbringing. Despite this, he connects very well with this lady and for the first time in his life feels at home. Due to a certain turn of events that I won't spoil, Ricky finds himself on a journey in the wilderness of New Zealand (they call it the bush) with Sam Neill's character, whose name is Hec. Thinking the situation is different than what it really is, a national manhunt is sent out to find these two as they wander through the bush.

As this movie was getting into the thick of things, I tried to think of what it reminded me of. Then it hit me. Chubby, eccentric kid wandering around the wilderness with a grumpy old man who has a surprising amount of depth to him under his rough surface? Up! This movie reminded me a quite a bit of Pixar's Up! Obviously Ricky is the exact opposite of a boy scout, but their personalities are the same and the old man in both movies are also quite similar. The specific plots are also very different and there's no talking animals in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but the general premise is similar. And this movie is also similar in terms of humor, drama, and heart. So I think the Up comparison is a rather good one. And I of course mean that in a very positive way. If you liked Up then perhaps this is a movie worth checking out. Then maybe you'll scream at me and call me the craziest man on earth for coming up with the Up comparison because I literally came up with that on my own without hearing about it from any other person or critic. So maybe I'm just crazy. But if it gets your curiosity piqued, then it was worth it because regardless of how crazy I am, this is a phenomenal little film worth your attention.

Immediately in this you gain a strong attachment towards this kid. You feel bad for him because of his upbringing. You feel bad that the child protective services are so negative towards him. You jump for joy when he seems to finally fit in with a family. You feel for him when certain things happen early on in the movie. You're rooting for him as he goes on this adventure in the wilderness and you really hope things will work out. Major props to this kid Julian Dennison. Also major props to Sam Neill, who gives a phenomenal performance as the old man. He seems gruff and bitter on the outside, especially at the beginning, but you soon come to learn that there are many layers to this man that make a very well written character that you're also rooting for especially when several certain things happen to him. The chemistry between the kid and the old man is great. They start out the movie hating each other and are both quite annoyed that they are stuck with each other in the woods. There's a lot of honest tension due to things that happen early on. Then as they are forced to deal with each other, they create a believable bond and slowly work towards being good friends that are exactly what they other needed. At the heart of this movie is a phenomenal character piece with two characters that experience beautiful character arcs and it's just charming and wonderful to watch.

There's also a huge range of emotions in this movie. The movie is a comedy, a drama, and an adventure movie all in one. As far as comedy goes, I think we all love to laugh, but I'm picky with my modern-day comedies because a lot of them don't make me laugh. The humor is often tasteless, empty, or forced. Then sometimes the movies focus too much on the comedy and not enough on the story and the acting. In this case, though, Hunt for the Wilderpeople finds that balance. There's not a ton of gut-busting laughter, but there's a lot of good laughs and tons of chuckles throughout. And it was actually funny. And well-timed. And not forced. The focus also isn't on the comedy itself, which makes for a better comedy in my opinion. The focus here is on the drama. As I've explained, there's a good amount of drama throughout between our two main characters and what both are dealing with and how they're going to make it out of the sticky situation they find themselves in. There's several tense moments and lots of fun adventure. Some of the scenes get a little crazy towards the end, but I found it more fun as opposed to over-the-top. Is it pretty easy to guess how things are going to turn out? Sure. I wouldn't call this the most unpredictable movie. But they find a very good balance between all of these elements and thus they totally sell this premise.

In the end, if you are interested in taking a break from the huge summer blockbusters and want to settle down for a nice indie movies, I suggest you find this movie and give it a shot. People are always clamoring for original movies and are growing tired of all the sequels, remakes, and giant blockbusters. My claim is that they are already giving us those original movies, but people just don't go out and support them. Thus it's slightly hypocritical of us as a people because we beg Hollywood for more original movies, but when we are given them we don't go out and see them. Thus in the business of making movies, it makes sense to keep making the movies that earn the money. Thus the conundrum. With all of this said, my challenge for you is to go out and find Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It's the type of movie that deserves your support and I promise that you will enjoy it, because I think it's a movie that's accessible to all in terms of the content. It's a fun adventure between a young kid and an old man that is both hilarious, heart-wrenching, and mildly intense at parts. A well-rounded movie that will give you the feels. I'm not going to crown it as the best movie of the year, but I will say it's pretty great. I'm going to give Hunt for the Wilderpeople a 9/10.

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