Hunt for the Wilderpeople review
Few directors are able to pull off that delicate combination of comedy, quirkiness and heart that auteur director Wes Anderson created within his superb back catalogue of films. Anserson reigned supreme and almost unchallenged in this field, until New Zealand director Taika Waititi came along.
After making his presence known with the strong Eagle vs Shark, Waititi directed a few episodes of Flight of the Conchords, Super City and The Inbetweeners. From there he delivered What We Do in the Shadows – a full length feature for his 2005 short film of the same name – and Boy. Waititi’s prowess within Hollywood has now grown so great that he has been granted the lofty position of directing Thor: Ragnarok, as well as having directed the rather funny Team Thor short that was recently released.
This year, Waititi has delivered what we feel is his best film to date: Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Which does make you wonder whether the Marvel higher-ups saw Hunt for the Wilderpeople and how much of their decision was based upon its excellence. Below you will find our spoiler-heavy review of Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
The narrative follows Ricky – a troublesome Gangster-fixated child who’s worked the gamut of the foster care system, getting into various kinds of trouble, to the point where he is only one step away from Juvenile Prison, if he doesn’t behave with his latest adoptive parents: Bella (Rime Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill). After trying to run away a few times, Ricky begins to enjoy his new home, under the loving wing of Bella, while Hector – her rather grumpy husband – is far less welcoming.
When Bella drops dead suddenly, Ricky is left with only a sorrowful and begrudging Hector, who desires only to send Ricky back into child services, rather than to continue taking care of him. This spurs Ricky back into his old troublesome ways; he burns down Hector’s shed, attempting to fake his own death in the process, and this time runs off into the wilderness for good. Hector, while grumpy and unloving, is at the same time no monster and he decides to venture out after Ricky, finding him quickly. Child services – Paula (Rachel House) and Andy (Oscar Kightley), both of whom hold exceptionally funny roles here (with Andy’s name no doubt being a reference to the similarly dumb but kind police officer in Twin Peaks) – pursue to the two runaways, with a view to placing Ricky into Juvenile Prison. As Ricky and Hector spend time together, they gradually warm to one another and decide to go on the run together.
Comedy is the film’s primary asset and it’s rather genius in its hilarity. The film is based on the book by Barry Crump, but Waititi wrote the screenplay for the film and no doubt injected much of his own comedic style into the narrative and dialogue. The jokes are smart and superbly timed, all leading the script to feel like it has been polished multiple times and honed down to perfection. The small audience that we watched the film with were in bouts of chuckles and outright hearty laughter throughout. However resolute your disposition, you’ll find a smile across your face for most of this film.
Heart is the other key factor. A lot of comedies have the laughs, but lack in any real heart. Waititi is someone who has ability to attain both in spades. This is best evident from Ricky’s brief moments of talking about his Mother and how she never wanted him, but also in Hector’s loss of his wife and his warming towards Ricky. Julian Dennison plays Ricky and turns in such an endearing and charming performance that we hope his career goes far after this. Sam Neill – who is back in a big way now, after his turn in Peaky Blinders too – is equally as brilliant, crafting a character who is sour on the surface, but warm-hearted underneath, which is a difficult line to walk as an actor.
We personally feel that Waititi draws a lot of influence from Wes Anderson, particularly with this film. However, we feel that what Waititi has created here is not only reminiscent of Anderson’s best, early work, but it is also superior to the films that Anderson is making in the current stage of his career. What we’re seeing here is a young, very comedy-apt director in the prime of his creative flow. We’re mildly concerned whether Thor: Ragnarok is the right direction for him (sometimes it’s better not to get sucked into big franchises), but we’re happy that someone with this level of talent is helming that project and the short about Thor was indeed very well delivered.
We urge you to check out this little understated wonder of a film. It’s one that will linger in your mind and place a smile on your face, even after exiting the cinema. If you’re anything like us, you’ll also be dying to see it again immediately and we get the feeling this will be a film that we will treasure forever. Wes Anderson fans will love it. Waititi fans even more so and you might even find that you come out with a new favourite within his catalogue. Perhaps most importantly, this film has such a common appeal to anyone and everyone that no matter who you watch this with, you’re all likely to come out having vastly enjoyed the experience.
Image credits: Piki Films, Defender Films, Curious Films