Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) Review
Director(s): Taika Waititi
Writer(s): Taika Waititi
Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison
Plot: Pursued by the authorities, Hec (Sam Neill) and his adopted son, Ricky (Julian Dennison), attempt to survive the New Zealand wilderness throughout the manhunt.
Review: Based on “Wild Pork and Watercress”, a book by Barry Crump, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an intimate look into the relationship paradigm of a man seen as a father figure by a troubled (chubby) boy, all done in the style Taika Waititi is known for by lumping the grizzled bushman Hec with the gangster rap obsessed young Ricky, two characters with nothing in common except their love for Bella (Rima Te Wiata), the wife of Hec and ‘aunty’ of Ricky. The nuance of each character – including the film’s antagonist, Paula, a child welfare worker – forms the heart of Waititi’s screenplay, as it plays to the film’s numerous strengths excellently, whether it’s Hec’s inability to read causing an accident, or Ricky’s tendency to fall prey to his own childish machinations.
Though the film lacks the off-kilter style of comedy in Waititi’s – and Jemaine Clement’s – horror mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Wilderpeople’s writing is a lot more charming, retaining the colourful personality of the former, along with effectively intertwining the editing with the laughs – equal parts visual and verbal comedy –, and drawing the talents of the entire cast out to convey the touching story that lies at the core of the film. But the talk of the town is largely on Julian Dennison, a child actor that is probably the greatest thing in the film. Vibrant, sharp, and absolutely witty with his comedic timing, it’s a wild surprise that the 14-year-old is able to outshine the 69-year-old acting veteran, Sam Neill.
If the Thor: Ragnarok interview short a month earlier failed to clue anyone in, then this film clearly demonstrates Waititi’s prowess as a rapidly growing writer and director. Despite taking longer than necessary for the summer slump of mediocrity to pass, Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople marks a clear upswing in quality at the start of the year’s lead-up season towards the awards season. Coupled with the relative lack of solid comedies for the year – The Nice Guys notwithstanding –, the extremely cozy Wilderpeople easily shoots to the top of the year’s best films, as well as Waititi’s best work yet before Thor: Ragnarok’s impending arrival next year.