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Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

I don’t remember seeing any other film that made me cry for the first ten minutes, and then made me laugh until the end.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an emotional and quirky adventure of a young boy and an old men who unconventionally become escape buddies. The film is directed by Taika Waititi, whom you might recognize from Jojo Rabbit, or the vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. The screenplay is based on the novel “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump.

The story begins as Ricky (Julian Dennison), a troubled orphan who grew up not knowing love or acception, is placed with his new foster family. He is notoriously a “bad egg,” and has fit more than a few crimes in his thirteen years of life. Ricky is a gangster, not because he wanted but as this life chose him: “I didn’t choose the skuxx life, the skuxx life chose me,” he says. A skuxx is apparently a word for thug, or swag, in New Zealand slang.

Yet, Ricky has a soft side too. He has an inner poet who writes haikus and recites them occasionally. As Bella (Rima Te Wiata) playfully mocks him, which I must say are hilarious lines, Ricky opens up and come out of his shell. Once he encounters with care and affection, he doesn’t want to settle for less. The child welfare services become the villain of the story when he refuses to go back to his old life in which he was wandering between foster families. Hec (Sam Neill) becomes his companion in the manhunt along with the dog, Tupac.

The drama-comedy (or as one calls, the dramedy) is set in New Zealand countryside in which the duo runs away from their hunters. New Zealand has always been in my places-to-go list, and the immersive green forests and the intact nature as captured in the film only moved the country up to the top of my list. Such nature gives the impression that the enchanted forest we recognize from old fairy tales could only look like this. It’s truly beautiful.

The film is fun, therefore the technical details are, too. A classical montage sequence to show the passage of time is replaced with pans to reveal the characters in various actions. One can notice the playful usage of jump cuts and extreme close ups say of the police car, Ricky’s fluffy hand, the wild boar, the blood-covered knife…

The idiosyncrasy is charming. Some scenes gave me the impression as if they asked “What wouldn’t happen normally in this case?” and depicted exactly that. I’m not sure whether the filmmaker or the novel’s author should be credited for it, but I thought they were hysterical.

Cartoonish characters oftentimes face criticism, but every character in Hunt for the Wilderpeople have a delightfulness in their funny exaggerations. Especially Paula from the child welfare services resembles the human equivalent to a child-eating giant from a story book.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an amusing adventure with unpredictable moments of deep emotion and a general tone of peculiarity. The tone of the film is similar to Wes Anderson’s Moonlight Kingdom, so I’d like to note as a suggestion if you like one or the other.

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