Film Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

In association with The Grosvenor.


Equal parts daft energy and heart, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople sees aspiring delinquent Ricky Baker (newcomer Julian Dennison) paired through tragedy with his reluctant foster uncle Heck (a curmudgeonly Sam Neil) in a swiftly escalating manhunt through New Zealand’s bush. Beset from all sides by militaristic child services, game-turned-bounty hunters and SWAT teams. Once Wilderpeople gets going it’s anything but the timid indie darling its opening chapters might indicate.

Wilderpeople never lingers long. The viewer is thrown from tragedy to farce in a second. Or at least as long as it takes a cameoing Waititi to climb to the pulpit and deliver the worst eulogy since Zoolander’s freak gasoline fight accident. The film’s dry tone eschews any blatant emotional manipulation, and on occasion it wasn’t obvious what was a joke or a sad observation. What anchors the emotion are the two unlikely fugitives at the film’s core, and the quiet moments between the running as they slowly learn to, if not like, then at least understand each other. Expect not to laugh as constantly as the trailers suggest, but expect the film to be better for it.

The film’s off-kilter pacing occasionally works to its detriment, as it takes wide meanders in its latter half with no clear resolution in sight. However, the use of titled chapter headings serves to alleviate any plot muddlement somewhat, and frankly the film was often too funny to care. Wherever the odd duo was headed, the important thing was knowing they were going to be okay.

Given the current cinema fare, Hunt for the Wilderpeople feels less like a breath of fresh air and instead a final, panicked gasp before we’re pulled back under this year’s parade of remakes, re-treads and resuscitated cash cows. It’s odd that a film of this quality should be subject to such a mercilessly short release schedule, given the chasm in the multiplex market for literally anything half-new. If there’s any justice Wilderpeople will receive the same post-release popularity as Waititi’s prior outing What We Do in the Shadows. But then again that new Magnificent Seven looks good now doesn’t it?

[Ronan Duff – @donanruff]

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