Directed by: Taika Waititi
Starring: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House and Rhys Darby
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an outstanding coming-of-age film that is naturally and effortlessly hilarious.
Set in the beautiful outback of New Zealand, Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows a young Maori boy called Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), an orphan who has struggled to find permanent foster care. The film begins with Ricky being taken to his new foster home by welfare officer Paula (Rachel House). Ricky’s new family consists of Bella (Rima Te Wiata), a strong, bubbly woman and Hec (Sam Neill), a secretive man who is reluctant to embrace Ricky. While Ricky heavily warms to Bella due to her kindness and his respect for the skills she has required living near the outback, he struggles to connect with Hec, but respects his boundaries to avoid any conflict.
Despite settling into his new surroundings, Ricky receives a letter from child services informing him that his new home is no longer suitable, and that he will soon be taken away. Not wanting to leave his new home, Ricky feebly fakes his own death and runs away to the outback. Hec finds Ricky lost in the woods but injures himself in the process. The duo find out the public believe Hec has kidnapped Ricky and wants to harm and molest him. Hec and Ricky decide that they are better off trying to survive in the outback than returning to their humdrum lives. Hec and Ricky quickly become dependant on one another and their friendship blossoms as they delve deeper into the wilderness. Meanwhile, Paula and a huge team of security authorities attempt to track down the now infamous pair.
Denninson is outstanding in his role as Ricky. He delivers hilarious lines when you least expect them consistently throughout the film. Denninson accurately depicts a young, teenage Maori boy who wants to be a gangster in a performance that is both natural and believable. Neill is also fantastic in this movie. Whilst initially seeming mysteriously heartless, Hec’s sad past is eventually revealed and the kindness he is capable of is demonstrated in his time in the bush with Ricky. Denninson and Neill complement each other brilliantly and assist in illustrating their characters’ joint growth. Flight of the Conchords star Rhys Darby makes a hilarious cameo appearance as Psycho Sam, an insane conspiracy theorist who gave up city life 15 years prior to live in a caravan in the bush. Sam hosts Ricky and Hec but is uncomfortably weird even in their eyes. Darby’s performance is typical of his previous work as an cringe-humour character.
Visually, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is stunning. Taika Waititi does an extraordinary job at utilising the natural beauty of New Zealand in this low-budget, indie production. The camerawork and editing compliments the mesmerising landscapes.
The plot is relatively simple, but remains gripping and makes the viewer feel happy, sad, shocked, excited and amused throughout the film. One slightly disappointing aspect of the film was Paula’s relentless pursuit of the Ricky and Hec. While House’s execution of Paula was commendable, the character itself felt overdone, and whilst at first this was humorous, it became tiresome as the film progressed. It appears as though House was forced to depict a specific characteristic of Paula, rather than exploring further character development.
Taika Waititi has produced one of my favourite films of the last couple of years. Hunt for the Wilderpeople had me smiling for nearly its entirety, whilst almost shedding a tear in a couple of heart wrenching scenes. The characters and the narrative are incredibly likeable, particularly the personal growth of the protagonists. I will certainly be watching this film again soon.