Wacky and wonderful, director Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is about a heart-warming relationship between a foster-care teen and a curmudgeonly mountain-man. Newcomer Julian Dennison plays Ricky, an overweight juvenile delinquent in flashy street wear who arrives at the isolated, idyllic home of Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill). Bella is welcoming and cheery whereas Hec is taciturn and grumpy, but Ricky warms to both of them. When Bella dies unexpectedly, Hec wishes to disappear and even abandon Ricky, but the youth is desperate to avoid being placed back into the apathetic care of Paula (Rachel House), a militant foster care worker. The unlikely pair escapes the menacing childcare system by delving deep into the New Zealand wilderness, forming a unique bond along the way.
Dennison has oodles of charm and confidence as the young protagonist. He sells both his character’s naïveté and world-weariness and seems to have a lot of fun as well. Veteran actor Neill as Hec is solidly adult and capable, a cantankerous foil for Ricky who ends up as changed and vulnerable as his young ward by the end of the film. The supporting actors, however, are allowed to be riotously madcap and entertaining, especially Rhys Darby (of Flight of the Conchords fame) who gets to play a recluse aptly named Psycho Sam.
The zany humour and exaggerated circumstances of the story—with its over-the-top chase sequences and wild encounters with horse-riders, hermits, and hunters—seems as though it were told through a child’s perspective of the world, which is delightful and absolutely charming. Coupled with this light-hearted tone is the show-stopping beauty of the New Zealand geography—an exotic mix of forest, jungle, and mountain ranges, virtually untouched and vividly green. Viewers will want to jump on plane and visit the land of hobbits as soon as the movie is over. And with Waititi’s assured and idiosyncratic touch via art-house visuals, creative filmic choices, irreverent humour, and use of local talent, Hunt for the Wilderpeople shows some of the best of what this director and New Zealand cinema has to offer while injecting new life into the genre of family-ready comedy.
Bonus watching suggestions: Taika Waititi’s other critically acclaimed comedy, the vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, and Wes Anderson’s quaint, New England-flavoured, coming-of-age film Moonrise Kingdom.
Ratings (out of 5):
Overall Average: 4.6