Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the latest offering by New Zealand’s Taika Waititi. The director is on a roll with this fantastic fourth film after after bringing us three other great films – Eagle vs Shark, Boy and What We Do in the Shadows.
In Wilderpeople, young Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is sent to the country to live in the foster care of Hec (Sam Neill) and Bella (Rima Te Wiata). After Bella sadly passes away, Ricky runs off into the bush with Hec and they’re forced to live off the land, all while overcoming their differences and becoming closer friends. They soon become fugitives on the run after it’s suspected Hec has kidnapped Ricky and are pursued by child protective services and the police.
The film is a classic coming-of-age tale, as Ricky and Hec help each other grow over the course of their trials in the bush and by the end, the two form an everlasting bond. While not the most original plot line, the film is delivered in a sentimental, but humorous fashion, typical of the director’s style as can be seen in his past films.
The performances in this film are outstanding across the board. Up and comer Julian Dennison is hilarious as Ricky and veteran actor Sam Neill is usually great in everything he’s in and this is no exception. The chemistry between the two leads feels natural, adding to the overall authenticity of the performances.
The supporting cast which includes Rachel House as the lead child services officer Paula and Oscar Kightley as her dimwitted police officer escort Andy add an extra level to the comic relief which works really well. Rhys Darby of Flight of the Conchords fame also has a small, but funny role in the film.
The film looks stunning from a visual standpoint. New Zealand makes for some excellent scenery in films and it’s perfectly presented here. Most of it takes place amongst the wilderness and as Ricky and Hec traverse the landscape, we get to see a lot New Zealand’s natural beauty. There are also some unique three-sixty-degree shots in the film which add to the film’s quirky style, as well as a finely choreographed action chase sequence towards the end of the film.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of those films that will have you feeling many emotions throughout it, as it balances it’s delicate, heartwarming moments with mostly subtle, but sometimes hilarious comedy. It has laughs, style, sentiment and action – the whole package.
With four films to his name now, Waititi has proven to be an expert in directing off-beat, humanistic films and he impressively delivers once again with Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It’s no surprise then that Hollywood has also set their sights on the director, as he’s set to direct Thor: Ragnarok for Marvel pictures in the near future.
The film was the first local feature to gross more than NZ$1 million in its opening weekend at the New Zealand box office.