Saturday movie review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

As I sat down to write my movie review on the HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, a New Zealand adventure/comedy/drama starring Sam Neill and Julian Dennison that premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, a few choice words came to mind. Rather than attempt to deftly weave those words throughout my review, I'll just lay them on the line right here, right up front.


offbeat • poignant • outrageous • hilarious • sweet • silly • memorable • coming of age • wacky • well done • charming • delightfully deadpan • madcap • touching • must-see

hunt for the wilderpeople

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE ("wilderpeople" being a twist on "wildebeest") is one of those films that flew so below the radar that finding it — after seeing Sam Neill interviewed on The Graham Norton Show — and watching it feels like I discovered a treasure of cinematic sort and now want to share the gem with anyone who will listen, err, read.

The film, directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi based on his screenplay of Barry Crump's book Wild Pork and Watercress, is about the raucous adventure through New Zealand bush country foster child Ricky Baker (Dennison) and his crotchety foster uncle Hec (Neill) embark on after a series of unfortunate events. The two are deemed missing and a national manhunt ensues.

I cannot say enough about the chemistry between Neill and Dennison. The two of them nailed their parts, surely in large part to how much they played off one another, how much they seem to have just plain liked one another.

Words on Neill's Hec:

crotchety • kind-hearted • campy • illiterate • (subtly) sentimental • lonely • dog lover

And thoughts on Dennison's lost-in-the-system Ricky Baker:

touching • fun-loving • goofy • impressive • delightful • haiku writer • rebellious • irresistible

Dennison's character was continually funny (with sad undertones now and then) throughout. The characters whom I found flat out hilarious in every scene, though, were Psycho Sam, played by insanely comical Rhys Darby (Murray from Flight of the Conchords). It took my husband and me a few scenes with him to figure out if the bush man — literally disguised by a bush — was indeed our favorite band manager from the beloved series. His quirky voice confirmed to our delight Sam was Murray.

The second character who kept us chuckling at every.single.line was Rachel House who played the Paula, the wacky child welfare agent determined to bring in runaway Ricky and his (possibly lecherous) foster uncle. Bravo to her disagreeable-yet-determined detective.

Neill, Dennison, Darby, House and others in the film are New Zealand natives, as is the director and others connected to the film. Considering my affection for the film and the folks involved in it — as well as my love for Flight of the Conchords series, also New Zealand born and bred — there's no denying the sense of humor of New Zealanders has a special something that appeals to me above and beyond that of peoples of most any other place.

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE clearly appealed to lots of other folks, too. The film was nominated for 25 "best of" sorts of awards across the globe, and won 20 of them.

The dialogue often required attentive ears to decipher through the New Zealand accents exactly what was being said, yet HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE was chock-full of quote-worthy sentiments. Here are but a few:

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (rated PG-13 for "thematic elements including violent content, and for some language) opened in U.S. theaters September 2016 and is now available on DVD and streaming services. Find out more at