Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Starring Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Rhys Darby
It might just be the most adorable film of 2016. Writer/director Taika Waititi (Eagle vs. Shark, What We Do in the Shadows) has crafted a film that appeals to all ages. For younger children it’s a wild adventure in the New Zealand bush, for adults it’s a hilarious coming of age story. Hunt for the Wilderpeople, unlike many American films, knows when to accelerate with the ridiculousness of these characters, but also when to pull back and savor the smaller moments so wonderfully crafted by Neill and newcomer Dennison. The film is also very aware that New Zealand is a magically special place. Not since Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (which gets a hilarious reference) has a film depicted the country like one of the characters.
In and out of juvenile homes, 13-year-old Ricky (Dennison) has been adopted by Bella (Wiata) and her curmudgeon husband Hec (Neill) who live on the outskirts of the Bush. Ricky hasn’t made it easy for previous foster parents with lying, stealing, and property damage, but the sweetness of Bella wins him over pretty quickly. “This is your home now. Glad we found you, sorry it took so long,” she says. Hec and his dog Zag, on the other hand just want to be left alone. For the first time in his life, Ricky begins to feel like he belongs somewhere, although it’s a life he never imagined that will lead him into the greatest adventure of his life.
It might just be the most adorable film of 2016. Writer/director Taika Waititi has crafted a film that appeals to all ages.
The film is carved up into chapters that continues to surprise the viewer with engaging narrative. Most of the ten chapters never go where you might expect, which keep this story constantly in new territory. Every new character is crazier than the last. Waititi seems to have a knack for what younger audiences will find funny, “I got poop on my kicks”, and scenarios that keep the adults engaged and entertained. The odd ball 90’s retro music only adds to the films hilarity. Ricky names his dog Tupac, thinks of himself as a gangster, and the dialogue that comes out of this kid’s mouth is non-stop entertainment. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the type of film that can mean different things to different people at different ages. It’s a wittier film than Secondhand Lions (2003) which might be its only comparison.
If there is a drawback to this picture, it’s the final chapter titled “War” that goes a bit too far with exaggeration and scope. At the same time, this is an adventure story, and while the majority of the picture has Hec and Ricky walking around in the bush, the final moments of the film go full throttle in another unexpected turn of events. It’s been a long time since Neill (Jurassic Park, The Horse Whisperer) played a character that endures a bit of self-discovery. Typically cast in roles of antagonistic nature, behind that bushy beard is one of his best performances. “Wilderpeople” is one of the many terms Ricky and Hec invent on their journey, it references the wildebeests that roam the bush. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is continually aware of its surroundings and showcasing the vast beauty of New Zealand which makes it even more rewarding.
An imaginative adventure for all ages.