The Movie Waffler New Release Review - HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE | The Movie Waffler


A delinquent orphan and his foster father go on the run in the New Zealand bush.

Review by Joshua Mitchell (@jlfm97)

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rachel House, Rima Te Wiata, Rhys Darby

Despite its occasional familiarity, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fresh and utterly wonderful comedy. Waititi manages to handle the dramatic elements of the film with as much care as the comedic ones, resulting in some surprisingly touching moments.

2016 has been a fairly weak year for blockbusters. Following a string of disappointments, both critically (Jason Bourne, X-Men Apocalypse, Suicide Squad) and commercially speaking (Alice Through the Looking Glass, Ghostbusters, The BFG), many pundits have gone on to call this the worst summer for blockbusters in years. On the other hand, this has been a banner year for indies, many of which have gone on to break into the public consciousness.

In the US, Swiss Army Man has been arguably the most successful in attracting the attention of the mainstream, but Sing Street has also achieved a decent following that should continue to blossom in the coming years. And with the success of Taika Waititi's What We Do in the Shadows still fresh in memory, his next directorial effort, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, may find itself gaining similar popularity.

A notoriously troublesome boy named Ricky Baker is sent to live under foster care in the country with an older couple. The husband is a crusty and cranky man named Hector, who is annoyed by the sudden appearance of Ricky. However, due to a series of misunderstandings, Hector and Ricky become the subjects of a manhunt, in which it is believed that Hector abducted Ricky. As a result, Hector and Ricky must attempt to survive in the nearby woods while avoiding human contact.

It's as quirky a comedy as one would expect, containing its share of indie tropes like odd camera-framing, an eclectic score (by Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott and Conrad Wedde), and the vaguest feeling that Wes Anderson's movies may have been on in the background while the script was being written. The plot also borrows quite heavily from Pixar's Up at times (an older man and a chubby young boy, both marred by tragedy in their own ways, wandering through the greenery with some canine pals; and there's also an exotic bird at one point), but if you're going to borrow, borrow from the best!

Despite its occasional familiarity, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fresh and utterly wonderful comedy. The script (by Waititi) is genuinely hilarious and sometimes quite smart. Waititi seems to have an excellent understanding of when clichés are okay to be used and for how long a running gag can be funny for. The jokes aren't as rapid-fire as one may expect, but almost each one lands. At the same time, Waititi manages to handle the dramatic elements of the film with as much care as the comedic ones, resulting in some surprisingly touching moments.

The performances are all great. Sam Neill is virtually unrecognisable as Hector (thanks largely to his beard and accent). His frustration with everyone he meets is handled surprisingly subtly at times, and he has a surprising gift for comic timing. Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker gives an above-average child performance, avoiding cloying cuteness while simultaneously not going in any predictably unlikable routes with his trouble-making character (though admittedly, this is perhaps better attributed to the script). In her precious little screentime, Rima Te Wiata as Aunt Bella is a motherly and extremely funny presence, and the primary antagonist, Rachel House, provides some of the best laughs in the film with a highly imitable performance. Rhys Darby similarly scores big laughs as Psycho Sam, a role that easily could've been annoying, but ends up as one of the film's highlights.

Strong contemporary comedies not made by Pixar are hard to come by these days, but Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the year's most enjoyable films, avoiding snob-appeal without subjecting itself to needlessly juvenile content. It's hard to imagine too many audiences finding themselves alienated by this consistently funny comedy, told in a blissful 101 minute runtime to boot.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is in cinemas September 16th.