MOVIE REVIEW | Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “I was wrong about everything I expected, and I’m really glad that I was.”

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“No child left behind.”

I saw the trailer for Hunt for the Wilderpeople on three recent trips to the cinema.  And while it made me laugh every single time, I still had no real burning desire to see it on the big screen.  The trailer was so laugh heavy, I assumed it probably ruined all of the movie’s best jokes.  It also gave a really wacky, loose tone that I thought would struggle to sustain a feature length running time.  Then, I went to the movies to see The Nice Guys, it was sold out, and the only other option was Hunt for the WIiderpeople.  Turns out, I was wrong about everything I expected, and I’m really glad that I was.

Preteen Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a bad egg.  His history of offences and re-offences is too long to list.  We’re talking graffiti-ing, littering, smashing stuff, burning stuff, breaking stuff, stealing stuff, throwing rocks and running away.  After exhausting all other relatives, he’s sent to live in the New Zealand country side with distant aunt, Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband, the quiet and cranky master of the bush, Hector (Sam Neil).

Initially trying to put on the tough face of a gangster from the streets, Ricky’s genuine childlike centre is soon exposed as he embraces what is obviously the first thing close to a loving family he’s ever been a part of.  But an abrupt change means child services (represented by Rachel House as the hilariously over zealous Paula Hall) decide the farm is no longer a suitable place for Ricky to live, so he runs away before he can be taken away.  With a reluctant comrade in Hector, the two bond as they lead authorities on a never ending chase through the bush.

I guess technically, I should think the trailer is misleading, because it threw me such a bum steer on what I thought Hunt for the Wilderpeople would be.  But now that I’ve seen the actual movie, I think the trailer was kind of brilliant.  It gave away absolutely none of the real plot, and gave me enough of an idea of the tone that I had a rough idea of what it would be like, but was enough off base to be surprised be the actual finished product.

A director of several episodes of Flight of the Conchords and co-writer/director of Kiwi vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, Taika Waititi encourages a very specific style of stilted awkwardness from his actors, and Wilderpeople is no exception.  I have no idea of Julian Dennison as the world’s worst or best actor, but he’s in almost every single second of this movie, and he’s brilliant (deliberately or not) from beginning to end.

And that wide eyed, naïve wonder that imbues Ricky, and pretty much every other character, is so perfectly offset by the dead pan, exhausted frustration of Sam Neil.  He’s so cynical and over it, it only makes him, and the cast of his opposites, all the more funny.
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Waititi has two other movies that I’ve never seen.  I remember when Eagle Vs Shark came out, but it always looked too Sundance and twee for me.  It still kind of does.  But I hear great things about Waititi’s follow up, Boy.  So I’ll definitely be checking that out.  And if it’s half as good as I’ve heard, and half as good as Hunt for the Widlerpeople, I’ll be stoked to see Eagle Vs Shark as well.

Next up for Waititi though is Thor: Ragnarok.  I generally like the Marvel movies.  And as the last 650 words have proven, I’m becoming a Taika Waititi fan, but I’m not sure about him being a good fit for the next Thor.  The Marvel universe works because it’s been planned and micro managed into a very tight set of barriers that holds it all together.  I can’t imagine it will give Waititi much wiggle room to be Waititi.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Directed By – Taika Waititi
Written By – Taika Waititi

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about Hunt for the Wilderpeople?
The Australian
Australian Financial Review
Sprites News & Reviews

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