Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Jun 17, 2016 | Posted by in 2016, EIFF
EIFF 2016

A rebellious kid goes on the run in the New Zealand bush with his Foster Uncle resulting in a manhunt in Taiki Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

The kid in question is Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison); a troubled youth who has been bounced around from foster home to foster home and has gained quite the reputation as being difficult as shown in a hilarious montage depicting his various criminal acts. He is rough around the edges and craving acceptance of some kind.

He gets that from the loving Bella (Rima Te Wiata) who treats him like her own child by giving him his own room, gifting him a pet dog and generally winning him over with genuine affection. It’s easy to see that he hasn’t had a lot of this in the past so really appreciates it.

Hunt for the WilderpeopleThings change massively when Bella drops dead of mysterious causes and Ricky is left with her gruff husband Hector (Sam Neill) who isn’t considered a suitable enough family unit by Child Services so Ricky is to go back into the system and be re-homed when possible.

Ricky takes this opportunity to run away and Hector sets out to find him which leads Social Services worker Paula (Rachel House) to believe that this wasn’t the innocent mistake that it appears to be and a national manhunt begins for the pair who decide they’ll be better off staying hidden.

That’s a lot of plot summary but there are a lot of moving parts in play just to get to what the film is really about. Some might think that this would mean a slow start but it really doesn’t feel that way as the script is really well written, the characters well drawn and laughs coming at such a fast pace that there’s no opportunity to consider how much viewing time has passed.

Dennison is a great find for this film as he carries every aspect of it wonderfully. He’s excellent at playing the youthful innocence that doesn’t catch onto the fact that he’s implicating Hector as a pervert at one point as well as the naively street smart side of him that idolises Rappers and Gangsters without really understanding them. Everything from his facial expressions, overall line delivery and physicality is absolutely bang on and had me in stitches throughout. He is such an endearing character that it’s easy to see why people eventually warm to him once they spend enough time with him.

Hector starts off as the standard guarded and gruff adult that would rather be almost anywhere else with almost anyone else. Sam Neill really dives into his best role in a long time and adds a lot of depth to what could so easily have been a 1 dimensional character with a tired arc. His comic timing is very impressive and he bounces off Dennison perfectly. Their interactions definitely carry the film which is great considering that the majority of the screen time is only the two of them.

The story is told in chapters, like the novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Bill Crump that was the source material for this film. It should be noted that I haven’t read it so don’t know how faithful an adaptation it is but it doesn’t really matter as the end result functions really well as a piece of entertainment on its own. I liked the chapter structure as it breaks the film into chunks that have a defined beginning, middle and end all on their own. In many ways it feels like binge watching a very short TV series and this works in the film’s favour as each of the chapters are so radically different with their own situations and themes. You can point to any of them and identify it as being the point where something specific happened quite easily due to their appropriate and clever titles.

Another thing about this film is that it is absolutely hilarious. I would say that for me it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. Barely a minute goes by before something is said or done that made me laugh. The situations flirt between the sublime and the ridiculous in such a way that it still feels like the characters live in the real world, albeit a very strange version of it where people act just a bit larger than life than you would expect them to. The film picks a tone and happily sticks with it throughout which keeps things light and amusing.

It all looks great as well with lots of beautiful New Zealand scenery giving the film an impressive visual identity. Seasons pass as the film progresses which provides plenty of variety and there are a good number of inventive locations throughout to keep things interesting.

The only criticism I have for the overall experience -and it barely counts as one- is that sometimes the passage of time was unclear. There are several montages throughout to indicate that some time has passed but sometimes it’s hard to keep track of how long the situation has been going on. Every now and again a character will address this but it can be quite jarring trying to work out how long they have been on the run and how much time has passed between scenes or chapters.

I can’t stress enough that this film is a joy to watch and I look forward to seeing what director Taiki Waititi will do when he directs Thor: Ragnarok.

Verdict

An excellent and hilarious experience with great performances from the lead actors. The story is told wonderfully and the comedy on display makes this one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years. Barely a minute would pass where something wouldn’t make me laugh. It’s just a joy to watch from start to finish.

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