Written and directed by Taika Waititi (who is at the helm of the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok), Hunt for the Wilderpeople takes place in New Zealand and concerns troublesome teenager Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) who is sent to live with foster parents – outwardly affectionate Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and grumpy, cantankerous “Crocodile Dundee Type” Uncle Hector (Sam Neill). Though Ricky eventually settles into, and grows to like, his new home and family, he and Hector soon find themselves on a trek through the bush, perused by authorities, hunters and a pretty determined social worker (Rachel House) who are convinced that Hector is dangerous and has abducted Ricky.
The performances in this film are great; Sam Neill is wonderfully curmudgeonly as Uncle Hec and Julian Dennison excels in his role as Ricky; he is constantly hilarious, relishing the chance to be a real “gangsta” and wanting to go down in a blaze of glory, Scarface style! The two characters form an excellent, odd-couple style duo (somewhat akin to Carl and Russell in Up) and their relationship progression is constantly engaging, never forced or sugar-sweet.
In addition, Rima Te Wiata is great as Aunt Bella, appearing for a relatively short amount of time but remaining in our memories throughout the whole film; initially rather embarrassing and a bit square, she eventually develops in to a warm, protective maternal influence which has a profound impact on the film. Plus, the song that she performs for Ricky’s birthday (amazingly improvised by the actors, since they couldn’t actually get the rights to “Happy Birthday”!) is just wonderful and hilarious.
Rachel House is delightfully crazy as the film’s antagonist, the social worker who gets caught up in the hunt and is convinced that she’s the Terminator hunting Sarah Connor and writer/director Taika Waititi even gives himself a small but memorable part, playing a pretty hilarious minister! In fact, the whole supporting cast has a laugh and they all perform very well.
This is a very funny film and there were plenty of scenes where I was grinning from ear to ear, most noticeably during Ricky’s “he made me do things” speech. The script is sharp, the jokes are clever and overall, the humour fits in perfectly, making Wilderpeople a very pleasant viewing experience. The film is also beautifully shot and the New Zealand landscapes are, as one can expect, amazing. There are aerial shots aplenty and it is all so visually appealing, or “majestical”, as Hector puts it!
My only real problem with Wilderpeople is its length; it eventually gets to a point where I wondered if the film was actually going anywhere and thought that it could have benefited from being shortened a little bit. The third act does start to wear a bit thin as the ideas start running out.
You could say that Hunt for the Wilderpeople is The Revenant meets Up, the former being particularly relevant as Wilderpeople features a similar, and perhaps even more brutal, “animal attack” scene. It’s a “nice Revenant“, if you will!
A cleverly written, impressively directed, entertaining film with great performances, beautiful landscapes and tons of heart.
★ ★ ★ ★