Hunt for the Wilderpeople Dazzles Crowd at CineVegas Reunion

By Russell D. Christian, Esq.

(Las Vegas) Las Vegas Film Festival Day 3 saw the highly anticipated Vegas debut of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed by Taika Waititi. The film has already premiered at Sundance to rave reviews and set New Zealand box office records as the highest-grossing locally-produced film of all time.

Needless to say this screening was greeted with much fanfare and coincided with Thursday’s CineVegas reunion at the Palms Casino. Prior to the film, the capacity crowd in the Brenden Theater were treated to an introduction from former CineVegas artistic director Trevor Groth. In what could be construed as a symbolic torch passing, he invoked the formerly star-studded and anecdotally crazy (Hunter S. Thompson even showed up once) affair and wished the Las Vegas Film Festival and its crew the best of luck for the future.

The future of the Las Vegas Film Festival indeed looks bright if they can continue to screen films of the caliber of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The acting was a superb mix, as newcomer Julian Dennison’s youthful curiosity and sense of adventure as “Ricky Baker” were the perfect foil to veteran Sam Neill, who served up wisened bushwhacking philosophy as “Uncle Hec”.

Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by legendary New Zealand adventure author Barry Crump, the film was a classic adventure tale (think Hatchet) infused with a quirky sense of humor which skillfully utilizes modern pop culture references and action-movie style sequences in the context of an adventure film. (think The Goonies) Filmed on location in New Zealand, Hunt for the Wilderpeople features an hour and forty-one minutes of gorgeous eye candy nature shots (didn’t they film another adventure movie here?) It’s hard not to expand on the plot further without divulging spoilers, but the basic premise involves Ricky Baker and his adopted “Uncle Hec” lost in the woods but with a twist-they actually don’t want to be found. (I’ll say no more). The ensuing action was fun but at times tragic, and in a move clearly calculated to appeal to children the violence and adult themes are definitely toned down a bit and addressed in a non-threatening and at times humorous manner. Even some of the few scenes of violence (one in particular-if you’ve seen it you know which one) which may be a bit much for little ones are presented in a way where you can see it coming a few seconds off, just enough time to cover young ears and eyes if need be.

At the risk of sounding ordinary this film simply had it all: love, loss, laughter, action, adventure, reflection and romance. Clearly Hollywood has taken notice of Taika Waititi’s multi-facted directorial talents as well, as he was recently tapped to direct the next installment of Marvel’s Thor movies. According to sources at the Festival Hunt for the Wilderpeople will soon be screening at theaters in the United States this summer. Not only do I highly recommend this film, I will go so far as to say that if you only see one movie this year, make it Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It’s that good.