Hunt for the Wilderpeople is New Zealand director, Taika Waititi’s, latest critically-acclaimed feature film, following What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Boy (2010), and Eagle vs Shark (2007). It sounds like a thoroughly entertaining coming-of-age tale about a troubled teenage boy on the run with a tough older man (played by Kiwi stalwart, Sam Neill). By all accounts, the movie avoids cliche and melodrama, opting instead for strong character development, inventive scenes, and real emotional payoffs. And, in case you’re swayed by such things, it currently boasts a 99% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
I’ve come to enjoy a fair number of quality movies from New Zealand over the years. Some of my favourites include:
Whale Rider (2002) – If Hunt for the Wilderpeople is half as good as this movie, it will be well worth seeing. Whale Rider was also about a young Maori and featured an extraordinary, Oscar-nominated performance by Keisha Castle-Hughes. She plays a pre-teen struggling to stand up to a grandfather she loves dearly but who is reluctant to let go of deeply-held beliefs about tradition and gender roles. And, yes, in one breathtaking scene she really does ride a whale.
Heavenly Creatures (1994) – Before director Peter Jackson hit it big with The Lord of the Rings, he made a few movies that the Internet Movie Database describes as “Comedy, Fantasy, Horror,” but he also came out with this gem of a true-crime dramatization. The story is tragic – two teenage girls conspire to murder one of their mothers when their close relationship is threatened – but Jackson conveys both the joy in the girls’ friendship and the pathos of the awful outcome with genuine emotion. This film was the feature debut of both Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey.
The Piano (1993) – This was the movie for which both Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin won Oscars. It is also legendary New Zealand director, Jane Campion’s most successful film, and is an unusual, period love-story. Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel also both give strong acting performances, with both playing somewhat against type.
An Angel at My Table (1990) – Also directed by Jane Campion, this is a straightforward, but consistently engaging biography of New Zealand author, Janet Frame. Three different actresses play Frame during different periods of her turbulent life, with Kerry Fox portraying the writer in her 20s and 30s. Fox went on to co-star in Shallow Grave (1994), Danny Boyle’s first movie (and one of his best), which also featured Ewan McGregor’s first starring role.
Iain Pardoe is an online university instructor who enjoys the movies of Hayao Miyazaki even more than the kids and loves rewatching favourites from his youth with his family when he’s not playing soccer or skiing.