Hunt for the Wilderpeople Review

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi’s name is surely on the brink of household-ness, ahead of Thor: Ragnarok’s release next year.

For now he is better known for quirky comedies such as the classic Eagle Vs Shark, the recent and excellent What We Do in the Shadows, and the upcoming Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

A police car pulls up to a farm in New Zealand, carrying surly teen Ricky (Julian Dennison). Ricky is to be fostered by the bubbly Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and gruff Heck (Sam Neill).

As a premise, it all sounds a bit grim. But from the opening scene, it is clear that we are on comedic grounds in an offbeat yet heartfelt way.

In a hilarious montage, we see evidence of Ricky’s past transgressions and that he is a troubled kid who has been unable to settle down.

Ricky gradually bonds with Bella and finally seems to feel at home for the first time in his life.

Then Bella dies.

Again, it all sounds a bit grim, but trust me: it’s all done in a light-hearted way. Waititi’s cameo as a minister at the funeral ensures this.

And I should say, Bella’s death occurs early enough in the film for this information not to qualify as a spoiler.

After the funeral, Heck is informed by Child Welfare Services (personified by the great Rachel House) that following the death of Bella, it is deemed necessary to remove Ricky from his care. He reluctantly accepts, but Ricky is less convinced and runs away.

Heck travels out into the New Zealand bush to find Ricky to bring him back but, through an unlikely series of events, the two become fugitives with the majority of New Zealand hellbent on tracking them down.

Even aside from the choice to tell the story in chapter-form, this is masterful, well-structured storytelling.

So much is told visually rather than verbally, and the plot is moved along so well by carefully-placed montages, that we are given more time to enjoy the mismatched pairing of Ricky and Heck.

Neill, like his character, is an old pro and gives his best performance in a long time. But it is relative newcomer Dennison, who proves the real find as Ricky Baker. It takes a lot to convey Ricky’s journey from sullen introvert to outgoing adventure-seeker and Dennison brings all of this to life superbly, whilst showing great comic ability.

And though the focus is on Heck and Ricky and how they interact, there are many sweet messages about loss, belonging and family imparted through observing this relationship.

Which does not mean that the film shies away from less positive fare. Subjects such as paedophilia and child abduction are dealt with and acknowledged without puncturing the offbeat bubble in which all of these characters live.

Throw in strong comedic support from the likes of House, Troy Kingi and Rhys Darby, some sweeping shots of the lush New Zealand landscape and an eclectic but well-chosen soundtrack, and you have another bullseye from Waititi.

Next stop: Asgard.

Conor Brennan

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