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The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

October 7, 2016

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Director: Taika Waititi
Actors: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby

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Synopsis: Foster child, Ricky (Julian Dennison), moves in with an eccentric outdoors couple. When the wife dies, Ricky is left with the taciturn widower, Hec (Sam Neill), and soon enough, Ricky and Hec are cast out into the New Zealand wilderness to prevent Ricky being taken back into foster care.

Review: Tedious in the extreme, Taika Waititi’s The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is part of that ever-growing genre of smarmy, postmodern feelgood films (I like to call it the Sundance-lite genre). These films are too smart by half, and calibrated to within an inch of their life with their wannabe eccentric narratives, gags and “cool” soundtrack choices.

Waititi follows the template of Wes Anderson’s infinitely superior Moonrise Kingdom in charting the strange pastoral rebellion of a preternaturally mature kid, and how, in many ways, that ironic maturity refracts back onto the stunted growth of the numerous adult figures who fumble their way through the narrative. For sure, in the film’s incessant rhetorical artillery, there are one or two decent things going on – from an ingenious skit by a priest at the foster mum’s funeral, to a general honouring of the sheer beauty of the New Zealand landscape. More grating is the film’s gurning desire to ingratiate itself with Ricky’s persistent gangsta rap mantras (it was funny once, but not dozens of times), the heavy handed visual satire, and the completely unearned use of a wintry landscape and a Leonard Cohen tune to fasttrack some depth to this deceptively sentimental and prototypical drama. (October 2016)

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