Film travels into the New Zealand bush this week


Don’t be put off by the kooky title of “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” It’s an entertaining comic romp through New Zealand’s North Island, playing this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center.

Framed in a series of chapters, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” begins when child services dumps 10-year-old Ricky, played with wayward finesse by Julian Dennison, into the rural home of Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (a welcome Sam Neill). Fat boy Ricky, whose mother abandoned him at an early age, walks around their house once and climbs back into the police car that has delivered him. No worry. Bella gives him a big welcoming hug, and her husband Hector, rifle in hand, walks up the hill hauling a wild boar he’s shot. Then the fun really begins.

At dinner, a grumpy Hector, a.k.a. Hec, makes it clear he has no use for Ricky. After Bella chauffeurs the aspiring juvenile delinquent to his new room, the bed outfitted with a hot water bottle, he decides to run away. This clueless city boy doesn’t make it very far before Bella retrieves him. She asks him if he wants to help skin an animal, and teaches him how to shoot a rifle. Next they run off to corner a wild boar, which Bella triumphantly knifes to death. It’s a funny, more than scary, scene. Among Ricky’s unexpected qualities are his interest in reading and penchant for crafting haiku at the drop of a hat.

Unexpected events send Ricky into the bush with a very resistant Hec — after the boy fakes his suicide and burns down the family barn. He does take along his hot water bottle, and entertains Hec with rap music he dances to. Paired with the dumbest imaginable cop, child services rep Paula (Rachel House), the kind of battle-ax you love to hate, sets out in pursuit. In cameo appearances along the way, director Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows”) plays a nutso minister, and Rhys Darby shows up as Psycho Sam.

As chapter after chapter unfolds, viewers will take in breathtaking views of the bush during Ricky and Hec’s getaway. Although Ricky claims he aims to be a gangster, his essentially sweet nature peeks through that façade. At one point, a lovely young Maori girl, Kahu (Tiorsre Ngatai-Mellourro), retrieves Ricky on horseback. With Paula in charge, child services ups the ante in the search for Ricky and Hec, who’s accused of abducting the boy for nefarious reasons. Bounty hunters, a SWAT team, and eventually the army chase the two. The ending resolves this crisis without much violence. The acting in “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is uniformly excellent, and this funny film will delight all ages.

Information on screening times and tickets for this and other current films is available at, and MV Times event listings.