It's a bit late as it's finished its run in my local art-house cinema but do see Hunt for the Wilderpeople if you can. It has a high New Zealand flavour. Most New Zealanders live in cities but in the backs of their minds is the bush, where men wear Swanndris and hunt wild pig with rifles.
The virgin bush – the wilderness – haunts the New Zealand imagination as hedged and cottaged England haunts the English one, and the Highlands the Scottish. The bush is the remains of Eden and the humans who have only been here since about 1300 are the Satans who massacred the angel birds, its true inhabitants. So when the heroes of the story are running through the bush and spot a huia it is a heart stopping moment for a New Zealander. It has the charge of the glimpse of the Holy Grail, it is the Lost Ark for Indiana Jones.
The film starts in a dishevelled bush-cleared farm with a shabby weatherboard house, the outside dunny of corrugated iron, the marcrocarpas and the broken wire fence, the steep, shallow-soiled dense forested mountains, so that those of us have been there can remember the dry slightly acrid smell of the bush and the trunks of the trees thick with epiphytes and moss and creepers, small forests on forest. A social worker brings a boy to be fostered by the couple, Bella and Hec, who live at the farm.
The story is an old theme, of a child who brings love and light into an old curmudgeon's heart, which dates from Little Lord Fauntleroy and Anne of Green Gables. The twist is that the kid is a horrid fat brat, Ricky, (brilliant performance by Julian Dennison) from a deprived urban background. Bella ( Rima Te Wiata), a practical and golden-hearted woman kindly nurtures the boy only to die and leave him with the her husband, the misanthropic Hec (Sam Neill). Through misunderstandings Ricky and Hec end up fleeing through the bush pursued by the barmy social worker (Rachel House), her enjoyably laconic side-kick policeman (Oscar Kightley) and ultimately any amount of hunters and the New Zealand army.
As there has been much annoying talk about cultural appropriation here's a fine example of cultural fusion. It's directed by a Maori (Taika Waititi), a lot of the cast are Maori. There is a Maori theme of an ancestral attachment to a particular place. The culminating moment is when the ashes of the Earth Goddess Heart of Gold Bella are returned to the waters.
There is also a cross-current of languages. Ricky speaks a mixture of social worker jargon, American rap and haikus, which he's been taught as a way of calming himself and expressing emotion. The social worker goes on like an American cop. As well as the curmudgeon theme, which has been given a refresh and charm – and even realism, as a course of bush craft would probably help a difficult urban boy -there's the zany, unjaded humour of The Flight of the Chonchordes with a touch of Hot Fuzz and a car chase including an army of tanks and the usual smashing everything finale.
A personal note. I saw Sam Neill when we were both young and he was beautiful in his first film Sleeping Dogs where he ran around the bush..
It's lovely to see him after he has had a solid screen career now old, still handsome and still running round the bush. It's lovely too that in our youths the New Zealand film industry was thin and spasmodic, now it is well established and this film had an international audience and upbeat reviews.