Film

New Zealand’s Funny, Moving ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ Puts the Guts Back Into Family Films

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Family films today lack the edge of their 1980s predecessors. There never seem to be convincing danger or stakes, and the humor is too often for kids alone.

But New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) has expertly struck a rare balance of dark humor and child-friendly identity themes in his new film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Starring Sam Neill as Hec, a hardened rural survivalist with a weak spot for his loving wife, Bella (Rima Te Wiata), the film sets up a happy-ending scenario, with Bella taking in Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a chubby foster kid obsessed with gangsta life (his caseworker warns of his ability to hardcore loiter).

On his first day at their country home, Ricky watches in horror as Bella tackles and stabs a wild boar again and again, laughing all the way. It’s a total shock for this city kid, but he quickly learns to love his new family — and then Bella dies. But unlike other family movies, there’s a hilarious funeral with a sermon about junk food.

Ricky escapes into the bush to keep from being sent back to foster care. Hec goes after him, but Hec’s broken foot forces them to survive in the bush with no way to contact the outside world, leading to a grave misunderstanding that keeps the two on the run in the wilderness. They meet wacky characters and learn from each other how to be better humans with one of the most sincere and funny portraits of family life to come along in a while.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Directed by Taika Waititi

The Orchard

Opens June 24, AMC Loews Lincoln Square and Angelika Film Center

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