Setting itself on the edge of outback New Zealand, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a hilariously charming film that like to tip-toe the line between sentimental drama and playful comedy. Spearheaded and directed by the talented Taika Waititi of previous critically acclaimed hits Boy (2010) and What We Do In The Shadows (2014), there is consistent charm and humour to be found in his latest project.
Based off the novel by Barry Crump, we follow Ricky (Julian Dennison), a troubled and mischievous child that has been bouncing around the foster care system in New Zealand, and Uncle Hec (Sam Neil) a hardened and cynical bushman, through their journey of survival in the bush and what their place is on this planet. When an unfortunate situation brings the unlikely duo together, it presents itself for a classic comedic blueprint where it undoubtedly shines throughout. It’s formula is instantly recognisable and allows for the movie to be processed much easier, laying out each scene like chapters in a book, the films story can be broken up and all work within the context of each chapter.
As Ricky finds himself lost in the bush after attempting to run away, Hec uses his outback ‘Knack’ and bush savvy intelligence to track down Ricky and bring him back to safety where he will be sent back into the foster care system. Due to injury, Hec and Ricky are prevented from hiking their way back for several weeks and camp out as they wait for the injury to heal itself. In the meantime, foster care worker on the edge of losing control Paula (Rachel House) and the unintentionally hilarious Officer Andy (Oscar Kightley) are put on the case to find the now-missing Ricky and Hec. After a run-in with other local hikers that did not go according to plan, Ricky and Hec are the focus of a nationwide manhunt ultimately sees some special forces operatives getting involved.
It is the charming and heartwarming sense of humour that is a staple throughout many of Waititi’s films. It is the kind of entertaining passion that the film posses that has endeared audiences toward New Zealand films recent renaissance. Where Hunt For The Wilderpeople lacks, however, is in its balance of serious emotional drama too whacky and improbable drama that undercut it’s overall brilliance. Posing question about the broken and often hard world around us while still allowing us to laugh are often seen as signs of a brilliant movie, Hunt For the Wilderpeople didn’t answer or allow us any direction to the questions it presented; rather, it only illuminated many of the problems of the world we live in. Reminding us that it is a fun silly film, real consequences don’t have to be followed; I can’t help but to feel anything but helpless for the real life kids that Ricky represents.
I really wanted to love this film and I still think it is a funny, interesting, thought-provoking (albeit improbable) story that deserves a sitting, but if local cinema wants to be regarded in the same standard as Hollywood or bigger studio films, then it needs to be held to the same standard. Julian Dennison is proving to be an upcoming talent; he didn’t miss a step next to the brilliance of Sam Neil. Neil reminded us why he’s one of the best Australia’s ever produced on the worldwide scale, while still allowing the next generation of acting to shine.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople is screening now, thanks to Madman Entertainment.