Rebellious teenager Ricky is placed in a foster home with a middle-aged couple consisting of welcoming Bella and grouchy Hector. A series of unfortunate events results in Ricky and Hector having to survive both the wilderness of the New Zealand bush and each other’s company, and a series of misunderstandings mean they have to forever stay on the run, leading to a national manhunt to track them down.
Hunt For the Wilderpeople is directed by Taika Waititi, who most recently gave us the superlative black comedy What We Do in the Shadows. Being more of a family film it doesn’t have the same undercurrent of darkness as the vampire mockumentary, but it still finds time for several quite emotionally poignant moments amidst its flowing stream of inappropriate humour. Neither does it ignore the dangers inherent in wilderness survival, and several moments highlight how easy it is to become fatally lost within the vast untamed forest, each presented in a (mostly) comical fashion.
Despite Ricky and Hector’s mutual antagonism and constant bickering, a mutual respect gradually grows between the pair, although not in the artificially uplifting way of Hollywood equivalents but more grounded in reality, which is kind of ironic given the comical improbability of much of the rest of the film. It takes a certain kind of twisted mind to successfully write jokes about the accidental implication of child molestation. The humour at times pushes the limits of plausibility, but never so far as to tip over the edge and descend into farce.
The driving force of the film, Sam Neill and Julian Dennison constantly spark off each other, and the latter should also be noted as one of the most engaging child actors to have emerged in recent years. Ricky’s brash confidence is endearing rather than annoying, and with the harsh life he has led up to this point and his attempts to pre-emptively mythologise the gangsta life he thinks he wants for himself, you can truly appreciate what pushed him towards the kind of person he is turning into. Other memorable characters include Ricky’s social services officer Paula whose attempts to present herself with an artificial degree of intensity only highlights how inept she is at her job, and a survivalist nutter who calls himself Psycho Sam and hopes other people will too.
On paper the film might sound like little more than a standard feel-good movie, but the throwaway banality of such a description does a disservice to what a thoroughly entertaining ride it is. Part coming of age tale, part chase movie, part mismatched buddy comedy and part survival thriller – while at the same time not really definable as any of these – Hunt For the Wilderpeople is funny, moving, enthralling and exciting, and impossible to not be drawn into.
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: TAIKA WAITITI / STARRING: SAM NEILL, JULIAN DENNISON, RACHEL HOUSE, RIMA TE WIATA, TIOREORE NGATAI-MELBOURNE, OSCAR KIGHTLEY / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 16TH
Expecting Rating: 7 out of 10