Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of those movies that you’ve probably never heard of. I know I certainly wouldn’t have heard of it if it weren’t for Twitter. Or @Midnight. Or the Internet…
Anyway! You should hear about it. There’s a lot of great stuff coming out of New Zealand lately, and no, not just new breeds of sheep.
Rhys Darby’s Short Poppies has to be one of my favorite TV shows from the last year; Tickled, the tickling-porn-documentary by David Farrier has been creating buzz all over the place, and Taika Waititi has had two big hits in the last two years with What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
So what’s the deal with New Zealand, and why are some of the world’s best comedians suddenly coming out of the woodworks from a small island in the South Pacific?
Well, I don’t have answers to those questions. Sorry. But I will tell you about why should watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and maybe you can come up with an answer for yourself.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople starts off on a really strong note. You can already tell the comedy is going to be strong when the child services officer goes off listing young Ricky’s crimes, which include “… throwing stuff, breaking stuff, [and] stealing stuff.” Apparently throwing stuff is a crime in New Zealand. Who knew? Well, I guess people that live there.
Speaking of “Who knew?”‘s, did you know that Sam Neil, Doctor Alan Grant from Jurassic Park, is from New Zealand? Crazy, right? Well, he’s from New Zealand – he was born in Ireland…
Oh, yeah. I’m bringing this up because Sam Neil plays the main supporting character, Hector Faulkner, along side Julian Dennison’s Ricky Baker.
Dennison and Neil, under a sad, somewhat hilarious circumstance, end up wandering, surviving, and running through the New Zealand bush together. Along their journey, they make a few friends, quite a few enemies, and eventually find a family in each other. It’s a simple enough concept, but Waititi’s writing actually made this story – which very easily could’ve been massively depressing – humorous and beautiful.
The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. It doesn’t hurt that Waititi’s scenery is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but he does such a great job by searching for every camera angle possible. Some of the best shots in the movie were shot with a drone flying over the New Zealand bush. It really gives you a sense of the massiveness that the protagonists are facing. It also gives you a good look at the country, which again is stunningly beautiful. It also has a semi-chopy feel to it, splicing camera angles and shots together to form a smooth, visually pleasing film.
To add to the beautiful scenery, the script is funny as hell. I had my first entrance into New Zealand-ish (is that right?) comedy with Flight of the Conchords and haven’t been disappointed by anything else the country has produced (See: Short Poppies, What We Do in the Shadows). Waititi’s humor isn’t lost in the seriousness of the film, however. Even in scenes where you’d probably want to steer clear of the jokes, like at a funeral home, Taika himself makes an appearance as the… What’s the word…? Not really clueless – he knows what he’s doing – he’s just ridiculous. He’s a ridiculous character in a movie full of other ridiculous characters. The only one who feels like they’re not a caricature is Hec. But even then, he plays the perfect ‘overly serious old man who just wants to be left alone’.
New Zealand and Dr. Grant aside, the real star of Hunt for the Wilderpeople is Dennison. Ricky’s been through some tough times, though it’s never really explained why he’s in the foster service to begin with. Staying with Hec and Bella is really a last resort for him, and that’s the motivation for the plot of the film. Staying with Hec and Bella is his last chance to be part of society before he goes off to juvie. He tries running away (and fails miserably), but eventually finds love in a place where he least expected it – in Hec, who, it turns out, never really wanted to take in Ricky in the first place.
He plays his character so well, and I really hope to see more from him in the future. Quite a few other actors make the movie great, including Rhys Darby who plays the conspiracy theorist ‘Psycho Sam’. I could’ve sworn I saw a bit of Steve Whittle in Sam, but that’s another story for another blog.
I don’t want to go into much detail about the story, because you really should see the movie. Go check it out on AmazonPrime, DVD, VHS, Betamax, or whatever format you can find it on. I missed a lot of great entertainment in 2016, but I definitely won’t be passing up another Taika film the next time one rolls out.
Reed’s Review Corner
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
9.5 ridiculous hoodies out of 10
Ricky’s origins left unclear.