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“hunt for the wilderpeople” movie review

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I get that the name, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, may not appeal to you and that you’re probably thinking, “Why would I want to see a movie about hunting wilderpeople? What the hell are wilderpeople and why in the world are they being hunted?”

So I’m here to tell you that the reason you want to see this little gem is because it’s a surprisingly delightful story about, of all things, the foster care system. Wilderpeople are not WILDER people but, rather, the human equivalent of wildebeests — which is what 13-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) compares himself and his “Uncle” Hec to when they find themselves on the lam in the middle of the New Zealand bush. They literally — and spiritually — try to reach higher ground and separate themselves from the child services officer determined to get Ricky back into the system.

The movie, which is told in chapters, begins with Ricky being dropped off at the rural farm belonging to middle-aged Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her crotchety husband, Hec (Sam Neill). Although Ricky is described as a “bad egg,” Bella has the patience of a saint and a heart of gold. She can also singlehandedly kill a wild boar and emerge, triumphant, with a giant smile on her bloody face.

Bella is such a warm and wacky character, welcoming Ricky with books, a comforting hot water bottle and an affectionate, “Are you hungry? That’s a silly question; look at you!” She gives him the freedom to run away at night but reminds him to “be back for breakfast,” and tells him, “I’m so happy we found you. Sorry it took so long.” When she unexpectedly dies, we feel her loss deeply.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky refuses to go to another foster home, insisting, “They don’t care about kids like me.” He runs into the bush, where Hec finds him, lost and wandering in circles. Hec is injured, and the two end up staying and living off the land, forming an unlikely bond.

It is impossible not to care about Ricky, played to perfection in a breakout performance by young Dennison. The other performances are also stand-out, and it’s beautiful to watch Ricky teach Hec how to write haiku — yes, haiku! — and to see the pride in Hec’s faith when he realizes Ricky has developed “the knack” for surviving in the wilderness.

The New Zealand landscape provides a raw, natural and gorgeous backdrop to this story. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, the movie proves that family comes in many forms.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is quirky, heartwarming and, to describe it in Hec’s own words, it’s “pretty majestical.”


  1. “Pretty majestical” cracked me up. I have to see this–I like the quirkyness of it and of course, what’s not to like about NZ?

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