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The independent movie has always been most closely associated with the ideas of originality and boldness of concept, and few films demonstrate that better than Hunt for the Wildepeople. Taika Waititi’s wild and weird coming of age story serves as an amazing breakthrough for it’s young star Julian Dennison, but also a perfect combination of the absurdities of an adventure movie with the heart of a film about growing up. The film is completely committed to its own world building, and the continuously strange and hilarious antics make the film’s heartfelt moments feel more earned.

Kicked out of a juvenile penitentiary, Ricky (Julian Dennison) is sent to live with his eccentric foster aunt and uncle in the heart of the New Zealand jungle. After assimilating into the wacky ways of his new home, Ricky and his silent, brooding Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) go on a wild adventure in the jungle, pursued by bounty hunters and law enforcement. Dennison is a huge breakout, giving heart and personality to one of the year’s most memorable characters, and Neill makes a great comeback role that shows his depth of humor.

The film goes to some weird places, sprinkling in all types of humor and fun to the story, but everything feels earned. It’s an unconventional film in every way, but the way the film constructs its coming of age elements are beyond clever, and the bizarre adventure continues to surprise and entertain in every way. Hunt for the Wildepeople is a great achievement in every way, a brilliant exercise in original film making. Grade: -A

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