Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Nature just got gangster
Upon closer inspection, I'm starting to think "Sam Neill has an adventure because of kids" should be an actual genre of movie. I mean, it just seems to happen an odd number of times to the guy who was also in Event Horizon and In the Mouth of Madness. Either way, Wilderpeople is another one of those movies that I heard about from about one reviewer and I'm not beyond watching a movie just because someone else though it was good (or bad). Put on your accentuated hat, and try not to be too insulting with your fake New Zealand accent, it's time for a movie.
I had no idea what this movie really entailed when I got into it, outside of something to do with a kid lost in the bush. Maybe it's better off that way, as it lets you enjoy all the little ups and downs that you didn't expect - although who wouldn't think a plot would be better to experience without being told it first? There isn't really any super-hard left field twists in this movie, and mostly everything feels like a somewhat organic progression. What starts simple turns into something else and gives us the adventure proper, and yet there is an escalation of events that mostly happens due to misunderstanding. In turn, it leaves us with this believable situation that is also so unbelievable in how it has escalated - but either way it's cohesive and fun. If there was to be one major flaw in the plot department, it's more related to having a very loose way of dispensing how much time has passed between scenes - usually dropped in dialogue, as there isn't much else to go off of.
The runtime was a bit over my favored sweet-spot of 90 minutes, and I'd feel remiss to not point out a lot of travel shots and montages that I would generally call out in longer movies that also exists here. Despite that, the movie doesn't feel long, and a lot of the montages also have a neat overlay effect in which multiple moments are playing out in the area as the camera slowly completes a sideways pan. This isn't a huge thing, but it's a nice little alternative to the standard cut-cut-cut of a montage as we know it. The movie does have plenty of scenes where things could feel a bit dragged, but there's also a nice bit of pacing where although nothing may be happening on screen outside of seeing some lovely sights it still feels like it's leading up to something. Some of this might come from the "Chapters" layout of font that keeps popping up to inform us that a new act has begun.
This movie, more than anything else, really relies on two things: The kid and the "uncle" selling their roles. Since most the movie is them out in the bush, without some form of chemistry or decent acting we'd be in for a load of punishment. Thankfully, I was actually rather impressed with how things played out. I wouldn't necessarily say the performances were out of this world, but they felt solid. There's times when the kids acting feels somewhat bland or distant, but it fits with how the character seems like they would be - if that helps explain it. Overall, even the support crew was pretty well done, even if for the most part they were rather over-the-top sort of cutouts of a person. It works great for the comedy side of things though.
Those jokes are actually surprisingly enjoyable as well. Despite one or two scenes, I found myself to be feeling quite positive and upbeat through most of the movie. Scenes where the kid lays down some lines and it's misunderstood by everyone in the room because of how open what he is saying is becomes funny in that awkward sense, and it's only made better when later it finally dawns on the kid how what he said sounded. Some of it comes from the development of the main characters and their perceived growth as such, but some also comes as references to other things that won't be as effective to the broad reaches of people. Although I may find a gag about Lord of the Rings to be funny, someone who doesn't know or potentially like it won't find it as funny I'd imagine. On the other hand, I feel that scenes like those with the "bush man" psycho Sam should be able to be laughed at by anyone.
Effects work exists in this movie, but it's nothing as crazy as you'd see in a modern blockbuster or effects showcase. There is some violence, and the blood from those scenes looks quite convincing. Outside of the bush man, costumes are ideally a modern affair as well - something that lends itself to the characters but doesn't necessarily stand out as super iconic. There is a bit of play as the movie goes on where the distinction from city to bush starts to fade as the city becomes the bush in the costume design if you wanted to try and look more in-depth, but I wouldn't think too much on it. Environmentally and set-wise, of course things generally look gorgeous and make you want to take a vacation.
Another main thing I'd like to mention is the music. Although some of the songs are somewhat sadder in pace, most of these tunes had me feeling happy. One particularly towards the end actually had me tapping my feet to it, and I feel like it really contributed to the scene that it was in. All of that said, I'd be hard pressed to tell you that any of the songs are actually still with me in my head after the movie - not quite ear worms I suppose. Audio is also finely balanced, so even with the accents, music and sounds I could still hear what people were saying just fine.
In the long run, this thing was a fantastic little adventure. There are things the movie does that I usually don't like and did catch myself asking why I was enjoying it in an at least passable sense for this outing - and I think that partially comes down to the music and the neat fading montage. The biggest kicker for some will probably be the sadder moments - of which the one that most people will be just up in arms about is a dog's death (even though it is avenged against the beast that caused it). The characters feel like they grow nicely, there's a splendid sense of humor to keep things from getting too depressing, and the overall pacing is quite well done. It's been a while since maybe I've said this, but I'd recommend this one as a watch for sure.