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Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Movie Review

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy The Orchard

It’s always uplifting when a comedic gem appears to lift one’s spirit and showcase the talents of a truly funny individual or group. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a unique delight, almost like a Wes Anderson movie with its eccentric band of characters and inventive camerawork. Director/writer Taika Waititi crafts something that is a coming-of-age tale wrapped within a buddy movie and a cross-country adventure. There is not a single joke that falters, with each one providing a different belly laugh. Waititi uses physical humour, verbal wit, double entendres and referential humour to superb effect, all while giving us two dynamic leads to root for.

Key to the success of Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the growing friendship between troublemaking youth Ricky and new foster parent Hector. Waititi is able to take the standard story of the grumpy older man who slowly connects with a child and spins it into a clever package. By allowing the story to span multiple months, he makes this growing relationship even more believable. The interactions between Julian Dennison and Sam Neill feel natural and not merely like the usual comic archetypes. Most importantly is how both develop, particularly Ricky as he becomes adept at surviving the wilderness just as much as the streets.

Waititi also peppers the film with a fun assortment of oddball characters. He turns a child services worker into a relentless force with her determination to catch Ricky reaching almost Javert-like levels. Rhys Darby has a delightful cameo as a conspiracy-obsessed hermit and goes all out. Waititi even gives himself a scene to shine as a minister with a rather unusual sermon. Everyone is allowed to bring the funny, even a dog named after Ricky’s favourite rapper. The way his script rotates back to several characters is cleverly handled and allows them to be major components in the story and avoids turning Hunt for the Wilderpeople into something episodic.

The story gets wilder and more outlandish as it goes on, which adds to the fun. Waititi is able to jump from a somber character moment to a crazy action sequence with a wild animal in the next scene and somehow make it seamless. All the while, there are actual stakes as Hector and Ricky outrun the authorities chasing them. The soundtrack is peppered with appropriate songs and Lachlan Milne’s cinematography brings the environment of New Zealand to life. One miraculous 360 degree shot, perfectly pieced together by editors Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya and Luke Haigh, is breathtaking in how it shows the progression of the major characters in this manhunt.

Part of the charm of Hunt for the Wilderpeople is its New Zealand identity, with Taika Waititi fashioning almost a love letter to the amazing environments of the country’s mountains and forests. However, there’s a universal appeal to the humour that will be funny even to those who only know New Zealand as a country populated by sheep. The filmmakers have cast some of the funniest local actors for the production and crafted an original comedy that subverts many of our expectations. There’s never a predictable moment in all of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, making it a refreshing ride and sure to remain one of the pleasures of the current summer season.

Stefan Ellison