Amidst the abundance of comic book movies, nestled behind earnest Oscar-baiting fare, there lies a small niche reserved for films that very quietly, in their own way, are brilliant. Commonly small, independent productions, these films arrive without pomp, ceremony or expectation, and often rise straight to the top of annual Top 10 lists as their popularity spreads largely through word of mouth. Hunt For The Wilderpeople is one such film.
Ironically, writer and director Taika Waititi’s next project will be the completion of a certain Norse God’s trilogy, but if he can balance his delicate, infectious humour with the needs of a mega-budget blockbuster then Thor: Ragnarok could well be the best Marvel movie yet.
The premise behind Wilderpeople is initially familiar, and latterly bizarrely original. Troubled kid goes to live with his caring “Auntie” and objectional “Uncle”. When the matriarch dies, kid and uncle must find some middle ground, and a tight bond is eventually formed when they embark upon an accidental adventure that leads to them having to evade a national manhunt. The brilliance in Wilderpeople lies in the effortless way Waititi handles his subject matter. Nothing ever feels contrived or forced as the tone switches between subtle humour you may miss first time round, to dark echoes of reality that ground the melodrama. Through crafted scenes of normality that feel more like ad-libbed sketches, to ingenious moments of surreal surprise, this is a film always perfectly balanced, with the audience being part of the drama rather than simply watching it from the comfort of a sofa.
You react to the characters as if part of your own family; tutting and sighing when obstinate or ignorant, and smiling with pride when they do or say just the right thing at just the right time.
Much of this inherent warmth comes from the performances that are faultless without exception. Whether it is Sam Neill as the crotchety Uncle Hec, Rima Te Wiata as the fateful Bella or Julian Dennison as young anti-hero Ricky, there is naturality to the characters you rarely see.
Witty, warming and wonderful, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a film that, should you have even an ounce of sentiment or feeling, will charm you from the opening moments to the enjoyably predictable finale. This film is the best chocolate you’ve ever tasted with a delicate kick of chilli, a fine red wine that may carry a hint of hangover – it is one unashamedly sentimental for all the right reasons, and one that carries a subtle touch of reality. Watch it as soon as possible; we guarantee you’ll not be disappointed.
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: TAIKA WAITITI / STARRING: SAM NEILL, JULIAN DENNISON, RACHEL HOUSE / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 16TH