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.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Year: 2016.

6 Responses to “Hunt For The Wilderpeople”

  1. Mark Walker

    You already know how much I love What We Do In The Shadows. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. I also recently got my hands on Waititi’s “Boy” which I aim to do back-to-back with this one.

    Not so sure about Waititi doing a Thor movie, though. It doesn’t sound right for him but I do like the news that a TV spin of What We Do In The Shadows has been green lit.

    • Stu

      That’s great news on the TV spinoff…I hadn’t heard about that but I’ll look out for it. I’d like to see Boy, based on his other stuff, but I was a little bit disappointed by this one given the amount of praise it had after the US release a few months back. It’s good, but not great.

      • Mark Walker

        It was always going to be hard to top WWDITS but I do like his style. I’ll try and keep my expectations in check, though.

  2. Jordan Dodd

    Great post mate! Bummer you didn’t like it as much as others, this one is up there with my favourites of the year, but that is probably because of the market. Youth issues are massive, media-heavy problems both here in Australia and New Zealand

    And that hilariously over-played Welfare Officer you mention – it is funny for sure, but the problem is workers like that do exist. And there are far too many of them. Hence I am becoming a youth worker. 😀

    Gotta love her saying on the new though, “this child is capable of spitting, littering etc…” haha! Its funny but at the same time, so spot on. This is how young people are looked at by the media down here. Don’t know what the situation is like in the UK

    • Stu

      Interesting to get your take on it, my friend. I’d just assumed her behaviour was so OTT it was just being played for laughs, but obviously there’s a degree of truth in there too (well, more than a degree by the sounds of it). I didn’t think of it as an issues film at all, but I guess it is!

      • Jordan Dodd

        Yeah, that is why I liked it so much. It is bloody funny but is also making a statement about how horrible kids like Ricky are treated. It’s a massive problem down here


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