I suppose you could say that Taika Waititi’s moving up in the world, given that he’s currently putting the finishing touches to his first straight-up blockbuster (that’ll be Thor: Ragnarok); let’s just hope he called or emailed Edgar Wright – a similarly idiosyncratic comedy director who ended up being burned by the experience – for advice beforehand. Regardless, and luckily for us, the man behind What We Do In The Shadows – and a couple of excellent small screen cult shows – has managed to squeeze out this entertaining, warm-hearted adventure-comedy before taking on Marvel’s Universe Of Cinema (as I’m calling it), with all its attendant pressures.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a New Zealand-set adventure that has been written and directed by Waititi and is based on Barry Crump’s bestselling novel Wild Pork And Watercress. It stars Julian Dennison and Sam Neill as a boy and his adoptive uncle, respectively, with the plot focussing on the way that their relationship develops in some increasingly-extreme circumstances. They’re initially thrown together when the boy – Ricky – is placed with Neill’s Hec and his rural-dwelling wife by child welfare services. Hec makes a point of being frosty toward the kid; but Ricky – for all his apparent behavioural issues – is sweet and good-natured, so inevitably the older man gradually warms to him. One incident, however, shatters this newly-constructed family, and child welfare services come-a-calling with the intention of taking the kid back to ‘juvy’ (i.e. a youth detention centre). Hec and Ricky end up on the run in the wilderness, with a growing crowd of people – including, eventually and hilariously, SWAT-style teams who are armed to the teeth – in pursuit.
It’s not as funny as Waititi’s vampire spoof, but it’s a very charming movie, and it is often amusing. There’s also some lovely photography of the New Zealand countryside; less spectacular than those stunning South Island vistas of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, but beautiful (and more manageable) nonetheless. Julian Dennison is great fun in the lead role – initially a fish-out-of-water before he starts to thrive thanks to the freedom the great outdoors affords him – and Sam Neill rarely lets his grumbly, cantankerous mask slip; they make for a good double act – one constantly bickering, the other rather sweet, just looking for love and a father figure. Waititi lets a few of the supporting actors ham it up, and of these I enjoyed Rachel House’s crazy welfare officer and the director’s own minister the most. Not the work of brilliance it has been made out to be, in my opinion, but certainly enjoyable and it offers younger kids or early teens a different, more sophisticated kind of comedy than most films pitched at families.
Directed by: Taika Waititi.
Written by: Taika Waititi. Based on Wild Pork And Watercress by Barry Crump.
Starring: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rachel House, Rima Ta Wiata.
Cinematography: Lachlan Milne.
Editing: Luke Haigh, Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya.
Music: Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, Conrad Wedde.
Running Time: 101 minutes.