Taika Waititi burst onto the international scene with 2015’s vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows, a film so impressive it got him the job directing the third film in Marvel’s Thor franchise. While waiting for filming on that to start, he made this amiable wilderness comedy which screened as part of this year’s Fantasia Festival.
The plot is far from original, Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a troubled kid who’s been in and out of foster homes. He’s sent to live with Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill) who reside well out in the bush. Against all odds Ricky bonds with them and looks to have found a home. However when Bella suddenly dies Ricky is scheduled to be returned to juvenile care. Not wanting any part of that he takes off into the bush. Hec goes to find him and the pair find themselves the subject of a nationwide manhunt led by obsessed social worker Paula (Rachel House).
Anyone expecting the dark humor of Waititi’s previous film will be disappointed. This is an upbeat, cheerful film you can take the whole family to. And, it’s a very entertaining one as these two mismatched outcasts try to elude capture long enough to figure a way out of their predicament. While it is filled with the cliches of wilderness adventure films but it gleefully subverts many of them and the others it takes and runs with, breathing new life into old situations and making sure things never drag.
The on screen chemistry between the veteran Neil and relative newcomer Dennison works to sell their unlikely alliance. It’s also amazing to see Dennison hold his own with Neil, who is one of the best actors around,. This was only his third film, it will be interesting to see where Dennison’s career goes from here. I should mention the film’s third star, the New Zealand wilderness. The scenery is breathtaking, at times giving the film the feel of an epic quest or fairy tale. In supporting roles House is hysterical as the social worker with the Judge Dredd complex as is Rhys Darby as Psycho Sid a hermit who’s been hiding out in the bush for way to long.
The film’s action sequences also shine, there’s a couple of incidents involving wild boars that are tense and exciting, a standoff with a group of hunters out to claim the bounty on our heroes and a wild car chase as well. The way these are handled is a good omen for Thor: Ragnarok which I’m sure will be full of action scenes.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, while not quite the gem his previous film was is still a wonderful film that should even appeal to those who don’t usually like family films.