Film Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Also known as: Wild Pork and Watercress (working title)
Release Date: January 22nd, 2016 (Sundance)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi
Based on: Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump
Music by: Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, Conrad Wedde
Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Rhys Darby, Oscar Knightley, Taika Waititi

Piki Films, Defender Films, Curious Film, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Shit just got real… again” – Hec

Taika Waititi may be one of the best filmmakers of his generation. Finally, after the great Thor: Ragnarok, he seems to be getting some mainstream success and notoriety. But before his take on Thor and just after his underground classic, What We Do In the Shadows, he made this film.

In this picture, we have an unlikely pair on the run from the authorities. Julian Dennison, who is now most famous as the sort of evil kid from Deadpool 2, plays Ricky Baker, a juvenile delinquent sent to live with two foster parents. When the kind foster mother dies, Ricky is left with the husband, a sort of cranky man that likes his solitude out in the bush. Ricky is to be picked up by the authorities and sent to juvenile detention, as this was his last chance with a foster family and the aging bushman named Hec isn’t capable of caring for him. Ricky and Hec butt heads over this and Ricky runs away. Hec catches up to him but injures his ankle. After some discussion, the two go on the run from the law trying to split them apart.

This is a quintessential “buddies on the run” comedy but it is unique in that it is a kid and an old man and that it takes place in majestic New Zealand, most famous in movies as Middle Earth. Sadly, they don’t fight orcs but there is a funny Lord of the Rings homage thrown into the movie.

What makes this so great is that Taika Waititi just has a great balance between serious, emotional material and comedy. This isn’t as wildly hilarious as What We Do In the Shadows but it has a similar lighthearted spirit to it. It is probably closer in tone to Waititi’s 2010 film Boy, which saw a young New Zealand kid try to reconnect with his absentee father.

I have been a fan of Sam Neill probably as long as I have been alive but it was sweet seeing him have such solid chemistry with a young kid. Dennison is a rare talent and he really carries the film, making Neill that much better. And Neill certainly has a great presence on his own but Dennison brings the best out of him. I loved this pairing, which was a bit of a surprise as I wasn’t a big fan of Dennison’s character in Deadpool 2. But that was probably the writing and not Dennison’s performance.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is just a solid way to spend two hours. It touches the heart, makes you laugh but it isn’t overly sappy or sad. It’s a good time and just another nice feather in the cap for Waititi.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Taika Waititi’s Boy and Eagle vs. Shark.

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