HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (New Zealand/12A/101mins)
Directed by Taika Waititi. Starring Sam Neil, Julian Dennison, Taika Waititi, Rhys Darby, Rima Te Wiata
THE PLOT: Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is sent to live on a remote New Zealand farm with his new foster parents Hec (Sam Neill) and Bella (Rima Te Wiata), as a last resort; Ricky has a reputation for being troubled, so the hope is that so far away from everything, he cannot get into trouble. When Bella unexpectedly dies, Child Services arrange to take Ricky back into care so he makes a run for it, with Hec following after him. With the two hiding out in the wilderness, and rumours circulating of child sexual abuse – of which there is none – Hec and Ricky have no choice but to live off the land until the national manhunt for the pair is called off.
THE VERDICT: Directed by Taika Waititi, ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ is as strange and wonderful as you could hope, seeing as Waititi previously brought us ‘Eagle Vs Shark’ and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’. A tale of renegades, outlaws and two people making a connection, ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ is fun, funny and surprisingly touching.
Julian Dennison is on fantastic form as the pre-teenage Ricky Baker in ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’. Not so much troubled as ignored, Dennison makes Baker charming and slightly ridiculous, as he tries to become the gangster he believes himself to be, and seemingly has trouble staying quiet for more than a couple of moments. In this way, Ricky is the perfect foil for Sam Neill’s monosyllabic Hec, who seems to only want to be left alone in life, but when duty calls, he answers. The two are lovely on screen together, and make for an utterly charming and watchable odd couple. The rest of the cast features Taika Waititi, Rima Te Waita, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley and Rhys Darby, whose small cameo is hilarious and delightfully odd.
As screenwriter, Taika Waititi has adapted Barry Crump’s book ‘Wild Pork and Watercress’, and sets it in a heightened reality where a missing foster kid would cause a national manhunt. This then allows Waititi to populate the film with over the top characters, and makes a small adventure seem huge and dangerous. The dialogue for the film is top notch, and simultaneously takes the mick out of new Zealand and those who call the country at the bottom of the world home, while simultaneously being a love letter to Waititi’s homeland. There are also several references to other films in this madcap and charming film, including ‘Thelma and Louise’, and ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’, which of course, has been one of New Zealand’s most successful cinematic outings.
As director, Taika Waititi makes sure that ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ is funny and exciting in equal measure, coaxing wonderful and slightly absurd performances from his cast, while taking full advantage of New Zealand’s beautiful scenery in the film. The entire film is imbued with a sense of adventure, with a warm heart beating at the centre of the film that leaves the audience never wanting this odyssey across New Zealand to end.
In all, ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ is odd, funny and utterly heart warming. Dennison and Neill are wonderful together, and Taika Waititi has done a wonderful job in making a small story seem huge, and allowing the audience to care for the characters right from the very start. ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ is a truly special cinematic experience, and a film that needs to be seen.
RATING: 5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    New Zealand director Taika Waititi has followed up one of 2014’s funniest films, What We Do In The Shadows, with another belter in the form of Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Like that film, it features a great sense of knowing humour which helps it to purr along nicely.

    Chubby 13-year-old Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a bad egg. With his parents no longer around to control him, he’s become a delinquent and is shuttled from one foster home to another by stony-faced social services worker Paula (Rachel House) and dim copper Andy (Oscar Kightley). The latest place for Ricky to be deposited is the farm of Bella (Rima Te Wiata), a kind and enthusiastic lady who humours the lad and lets him run away. Well, just 200 yards from the farm anyway. Also in the house is Bella’s husband Hec (Sam Neill), a gruff man of few words who wants to be left alone. However, when a personal tragedy occurs, Ricky fakes his death (sort of) and runs away for good. Hec goes with him, into the bush for an adventure where the two will have to get on. Meanwhile, misinterpreting the situation and believing Ricky to have been kidnapped by Hec, Paula goes in hot pursuit, like The Terminator…

    Based on a book by Barry Crump, which is adapted here by Waititi, the film is divided up into 10 neatly arranged chapters and an epilogue. As such, it has the quality of a twisted fairytale or a fairytale that’s been given a good shake to get rid of the musty cobwebs. A naughty but basically sound kid tries to find a place called home and someone he can rely on to be there for him. It has a seemingly unstoppable villain, supporting characters that Ricky and Hec meet along the way that help them rather than turn them in, and a touch otherworldliness based around its unique environment. It also features an old man (not that old) imparting advice on a young boy who is trying to find his way in the world.

    It’s a dynamite set-up which pays off brilliantly thanks to Waititi’s razor-sharp script and a thoroughly Kiwi sense of humour. This is a film that will have you doubling up in laughter within the first few minutes, right through to the poignant ending. There’s a wide range of emotions coursing the through the script, moving from highs to lows with ease. The tone is spot-on, knowing when to make you feel sad before cheering you up in the next scene with something unexpected (a door-obsessed priest played by Waititi himself) or a mad conspiracy theorist who likes to dress up as a bush. You’re never quite sure what’s going to come next with this film.

    There are two wonderful performances from Dennison and Neill, whose well-written characters grudgingly accept and respect each other as the story progresses. Their relationship is developed in such a humourous and tender way that there’s not one false note here and no forced sentimentality, which is what Hollywood would inevitably do. Waititi has directed another charmer that takes you on a journey with two mismatched characters through unusual circumstances. It’s quite possibly the funniest film of the year – and also one of the warmest and most rewarding. Hunt For The Wilderpeople comes very highly recommended. ****