Sat. Dec 3rd, 2022

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Film Review – Hunt for the Wilderpeople

3 min read

Grizzled veteran Sam Neil (The Daughter, Jurassic Park) and relative newcomer Julian Dennison (Paper Planes, Shopping) form a formidable partnership in this irreverent and engaging Kiwi comedy from the ever reliable Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Boy). It has already been a huge domestic hit in New Zealand and should have sufficient mainstream appeal to captivate international audiences as well.

Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, it tells the story of troubled juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker (Dennison), who has been in foster homes most of his life. Given a final shot at integrating into a family, he is taken in by enthusiastic maternal figure Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her less hospitable husband Uncle Hec (Neill). After a few teething problems adapting to his new rural surrounds, Ricky begins to feel at home, but a tragic event threatens to send him back into the system. Rather than face returning to his previous existence, Ricky fakes his own death and retreats into the bush. When Hec finally catches up with him, a serious of calamities see the pair stuck in the wilderness together for months and must overcome their mutual disdain to survive. As time goes by, the pair realise that they have become notorious national celebrities. Hec is wanted for kidnap and child services want Ricky back under their wing. Pursued by the authorities, they form a bond and decide to stay on the run.

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The film has a procedural narrative structure and never quite reaches the comedic heights of Waititi’s more playfully constructed previous work. However, the casting of Neill and Dennison is perfect and the chemistry between the pair makes their journey consistently engaging. There are plenty of belly laughs cultivated from their conflict, peppered with some emotional and endearing touches in the film’s more poignant moments. This is undoubtedly Waititi’s most technically proficient and overall cinematic film to date. The widescreen vistas of New Zealand’s North Island are beautifully captured instilling the film with an epic visual style. There are a number of peripheral characters added into the mix with varying degrees of success. Rachel House as demented Child Services Officer Paula Hall and Oscar Kightley as hapless cop Andy start brightly but become increasingly grating as the film progresses. Te Wiata gives a lovely turn as Aunt Bella but Rhys Darby is disastrous as the ill judged Psycho Sam, a character obviously employed for comic effect, that just doesn’t work at all.

More formulaic and nowhere near as inspired when compared to comedy masterpieces Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi’s latest film is nevertheless very likeable and has an abundance of heart. The appealing performances from Neill and Dennison make for some magical moments and it is another impressive addition to the director’s CV. It’s going to be very interesting to see how he adapts his unique style to big budget Hollywood fare on the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.