Film Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

by Lachlan Anderson

Rated PG. Starring Sam Neill, Julian Dennison. Directed by Taika Waititi.

Every now and then a film comes along that is so charming we simply have to release a review of it, even more than half a year after it is released. Hunt For The Wilderpeople is potentially one of this year’s finest films and a shining example of what great local talent in Australia and New Zealand can achieve. The film, from writer/director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Boy), is now the highest grossing film at the New Zealand box office.

Ricky Baker (Dennison) is a real bad egg. Moving from foster home to foster home, he is on the verge of ending up in juvenile refuge until he is taken in by Bella and Hector, a couple who live on a farm in the New Zealand bush. After a run away attempt goes pear-shaped he and Hector, called Uncle Hec (Neill), find themselves in the bush with the entire country out looking for them, believing the boy to have been kidnapped by his caretaker. They decide to “go bush” to evade the police and a social services woman with Terminator-like vigilance making sure that “no child [is] left behind.”

Waititi’s film is a perfect example of a piece of storytelling that just works on every level. At its core is a really great script. It has a wonderfully weird and dry sense of humour throughout, including an awkward eulogy involving Pepsi, L&P and Doritos given by Waititi himself as a priest. The film doesn’t shy away from serious moments though. Where similar films would jam drama in between the laughs, Wilderpeople weaves them in together seamlessly. To go from strong character moments and darker subject matter to huge laughs without it jarring the audience is not an easy task. Waititi knows how to present serious material in his comedies without overdoing it and that makes for enjoyable watching

Sam Neill is on top form as the curmudgeonly Hec and newcomer Julian Dennison as Ricky is equally watchable and the two make for a great onscreen pair. Not to mention the supporting cast, including Rhys Darby, who all shine in their small parts.

Waititi matches the carefully made script with great visuals. He manages to capture the New Zealand bush with the same scope of a huge blockbuster like Lord of the Rings. And how often do you get to see a huge car chase involving police cars and tanks in a small kiwi indie comedy?

On a thematic level, Wilderpeople presents us with two very broken people. Outsiders from the start, they hate the world and each other. As the film progresses though we see them understand each other more and realise that family isn’t necessarily based on blood. Much like Ricky we could be called “bad eggs” when it comes to our relationship to God. So, it’s good to identify with his character and realise that we he really needs is the love and encouragement that a family like Bella and Hec can offer him. How encouraging is it then to reflect that though we are alienated from God by nature He still willingly adopts us as his own. As John writes in his first letter –

“Dear Friends, now we are children of God, and what will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

The Verdict: Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an effortless example of what film is all about. Script, actors and camera all come together to deliver a hilarious adventure with great characters and imagery that is both insane and very touching. The New Zealand based jokes may not land for everyone but there’s definitely something in there for all. Taika Waititi is definitely one of the great new filmmakers and we eagerly wait to see what he can do with the Marvel Universe in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. 5/5

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming services.

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