It's proving to be a great year for fresh angles on the standard coming-of-age story, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is arguably the best one yet. The film shares similar themes with Morris from America, another Sundance hit that follows the life of a misunderstood pre-pubescent boy whose penchant for rap culture doesn't quite fit in with his surroundings.
Wilderpeople was directed by New Zealand's Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Eagle vs. Shark), who's crafted a delightfully fun romp that offers plenty of laughs and a few sobering thoughts on themes of belonging and the broken foster care system.
Fantastic newcomer Julian Dennison shines as Ricky Baker, a young orphan who's been moved in and out of foster homes in New Zealand's child welfare system. Eventually, he winds up living with Hector (Sam Neill) and Bella (Rima Te Wieta) on a humble farm on the edge of some wild bush land.
Ricky quickly hits it off with Bella, though Hector keeps his distance from the young boy, so when Bella tragically passes away, Ricky goes on the run in the forest. He's soon joined by Hector, and a series of misunderstandings leads the police to believe Hector has kidnapped Ricky.
What follows is some familiar character development, as the two predictably form an unlikely friendship, but it's told from an incredibly unique perspective. Hector and Ricky wind up spending months in the forest, and their adventure becomes part Revenant survival story and part Grand Theft Auto police chase.
By pairing his distinctly subtle Kiwi sense of humour with action, adventure, heart and a healthy dose of adolescent drama, Taika Waititi has completely outdone himself here, showcasing all of his many talents in his best work yet. And with the director set to enter the Marvel universe for Thor: Ragnarok (and surely launch a big-time mainstream career), it's also a fitting farewell to his work as an indie auteur.