Wilderpeople is about Ricky, a preteen foster kid who gets sent to live with an older couple on their farm in the New Zealand mountains after a string of run-ins with the powers that be. After a bit of a rocky start, he finally starts to feel at home with Bella and Hec, though Bella is definitely the maternal figure while her husband Hec is more of a grumpy-yet-harmless old wilderness man with whom Ricky doesn’t seek out a lot of one-on-one time. When Bella tragically passes away, though, the boys are left with just each other and the dog. To further complicate the situation, they quickly get stranded in the woods after Hec sprains his ankle and Ricky proves himself to be clueless as to how to get back home and call for help. Unbeknownst to them, however, a social worker visiting their home walks in on what looks like a kidnapping, immediately assuming that Hec has had a breakdown and taken Ricky with him. What started out as a walk in the woods turns into a national manhunt of the deranged old man holding a troubled youth hostage somewhere in the woods.
To me, the way that this movie walks a lot of fine lines between what makes a movie good or bad is what makes it such a treat. The dialogue and situations are funny without being too blatant or overworked. The shots properly demonstrate the beauty of the New Zealand countryside without making it boring or overly symbolic. You care about the characters but recognize their faults. Their relationships are touching yet realistic, reflecting the complexities that viewers know exist everywhere in the world. I’m not saying it deserved every Oscar there is, but I’ll say this: it’s worth the extra couple of bucks if you have to rent it.
This movie is rated PG-13 for some light language and violence. As of March 2018, it is available on Hulu and for rent on Amazon video.