A wild & wonderful comedy

by Staff Reporter

Thirteen-year-old Julian Dennison carries the weight of this wild and wonderful comedy from New Zealand director Taika Waititi.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Cert PG, 1h 41m) is consistently hilarious, loudly absurd and quietly emotional; an odd-couple comedy that isn’t afraid to get heavy.
Split into 10 chapters, the film is structured along the lines of an archetypal children’s narrative and, accordingly, follows a kind of haphazard fairy-tale logic, despite dealing with some fairly adult themes.
Dennison plays Ricky Baker, a troublesome orphan sent from the city to live in the countryside with new foster parents: loud but loving Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and cantankerous bushman Hector (Sam Neill). After some short-lived growing pains, Ricky embraces his new home.
However, tragedy strikes and Ricky finds himself running away again, out into the bush. “Uncle Hec” pursues, but when child services find the house abandoned, they surmise he’s kidnapped Ricky. A national manhunt thus ensues …
You’d be forgiven for expecting heaps of syrupy sentimentality after one read of Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s plot – Waititi’s script, however, is heavy with the kind of deadpan wit and charming absurdity we’ve come to expect from the filmmaker.
Despite a few handkerchief moments, then, Hunt for the Wilderpeople never indulges in the maudlin or melodramatic.
Whenever the story teeters on the edge of mushiness, an off-the-cuff remark from Ricky, drenched in innocent ignorance, quickly grounds everything.
While Neill may have top billing here, and does his job amicably as the film’s straight man, it is Dennison’s performance that drives everything.
The young actor wonderfully communicates a kind of innocent, simple wisdom and curious self-confidence that is both comically endearing and outright inspiring.
Ricky has been put through the grinder of the foster care system and envisions himself as a gangster, an outlaw; followed everywhere by his canine companion, Tupac.
His unwillingness to return to that system gives the narrative a sense of danger: a kind of desperado charm that drives the adventure forward.
This is very much a “journey” film and its picturesque sweeps through the vast and distinct geographies of the New Zealand wilderness evoke The Lord of the Rings – a fact not lost on Ricky, who compares their adventure to Peter Jackson’s film.
A couple of bizarrely placed but riveting action sequences, and a retro-synth score straight out of a 70s Italian police- thriller, keep the pace fast and flowing throughout; there is never a dull moment in a run time that just about borders on overly-long.
Also of note is the director’s uproarious cameo as a rambling, incompetent priest, and Rachel House’s turn as the monomaniacal child services worker – she compares herself to The Terminator, and Ricky to Sarah Connor, “in Terminator 1, before she could do chin-ups!”
While the plot hinges on a curmudgeonly old man/bothersome child odd-couple stereotype, an abundance of unique absurdity, visual quirkiness and endearing characterisation mean that every archetypal plot turn appears natural.
Waititi’s best film yet, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople manages to feel both refreshingly original and comfortably familiar.
The director’s leap into the mainstream with next year’s Thor: Ragnarok is an interesting prospect – I for one am giddily optimistic.
Verdict: 9/10

Related Articles