Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Taika Waititi (screenplay), Barry Crump (based on the book by)
Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata
The buddy movie, the adventure, the odd couple, and the coming of age story are all overly familiar genres; but somehow they all come together successfully in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. More surprisingly, director Taika Waititi manages to blend this muddle of recognisable genres in an unexpectedly fresh and satisfying film.
At the heart of the action is twelve year old Maori boy Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a difficult child sent to live with new foster parents Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill) in rural New Zealand. The hope is that the country air will help cure Ricky’s tendency toward ‘antisocial behaviour’, but at first the gangster-loving haiku fan longs to return to civilisation. Just as he adjusts to the boar hunting, possum skinning lifestyle with the endlessly warm Bella and her gruff husband; tragedy strikes, and an excursion into the Bush unexpectedly leads to a manhunt for Ricky and Hec.
Based on the novel ‘Wild Pork and Watercress’ by Barry Crump, Waititi finds a greater level of emotional subtlety than earlier films like Eagle Vs. Shark and What We Do in the Shadows; creating some wonderfully comic moments, but not playing for laughs. Dennison delivers an incredible performance as the heavy set hip-hop fan Ricky, delivering quiet vulnerability alongside big comedy (including a heartbreakingly funny moment as he tries to heat a hot water bottle over a camp fire); and there is a brilliantly awkward chemistry with Neill’s Hec.
Though there are some wonderfully nuanced characters and moments, this is contrasted with more obvious humour as the chase evolves; with child welfare zealot Paula (Rachel House) and her sidekick Andy (Oscar Kightley) bringing in the police and army to aid their single minded pursuit. There may be echoes of Moonlight Kingdom and Thelma & Louise, but ultimately this is a film with an individual spirit all of its own; and brilliantly contemporary twists involving the ebb and flow of public opinion, and Ricky’s brush with social media fame, make this otherwise timeless film seem topical. By focusing on the joy of the story rather than too much unnecessary exposition, what could have been a thoroughly stereotypical comedy, manages to deliver not only a cracking adventure for unlikely allies; but also an intensely human and satisfying film about what family really means.
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