“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” Movie Review

If this movie proves anything in life, it’s this: Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was not the only awesome film to come out of New Zealand. This adventure comedy-drama landed a limited release in North America on June 24th, 2016, following a lengthy festival run after its premiere at Sundance. It has since gone on to become the highest-grossing native film in New Zealand, with a box office take of about $23 million. Based in part on Barry Crump’s book Wild Pork and Watercress, the story is set against the extensive wild bush of New Zealand and follows a juvenile delinquent named Ricky Baker, who has recently been adopted by a farmer couple. After a tragic happening, Ricky resolves to run away from his home into the bush, only to be found by his foster uncle Hector. When a nationwide manhunt ensues, they reluctantly have to work together to survive the wilderness. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is brought to us by writer-director Taika Waititi, who also gave us hidden gems such as the moving drama Boy and the hilarious mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. He will also be moving to the Hollywood blockbuster environment this November with Thor: Ragnarok so it would be wise to keep tabs on this one. His trademark quirkiness for characters and dialogue is ever-present in this latest effort, which may be his best work yet. His script is injected with immense heart and poignancy, contrasted by scenarios so absurd that it’s almost impossible to not laugh out loud. During one particular scene, the situation was mirrored to and alludes to The Fellowship of the Ring, something even the characters address. As a fan of the series, this made me chuckle. As for the cast, veteran Irish character actor Sam Neill gives us a performance unto itself completely different from his stint as a paleontologist in Jurassic Park. He’s gruff and occasionally closed off but shows a tremendous capability for compassion and care as a father figure. By his side is a breakout performance from the newcomer, native New Zealander Julian Dennison as Ricky. Even at the age of 14, this kid does a fantastic job with his lovable, yet deeply troubled character. You get the idea that Ricky has had a rough life up to this point, and it also becomes clear at a point that he wouldn’t last 2 seconds out in the wilderness without Hector. These two bounce off of each other with ease, as their relationship is a very believable one. Hector has to show Ricky various tactics for survival, such as building fires and hunting for food with a rifle. But it’s also their less stressful and quieter situations that make for some of the most human moments. Whether it’s when they’re both sitting by the campfire sharing their own painful pasts, or when they’re quietly sitting in the woods looking at a thought-to-be-extinct bird, it’s actually quite impressive how well these scenes were put together. However, we can’t talk about any movie set in the wilderness without discussing the look and aesthetic of it all. In a sense, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has the feel of a modern sitcom because it was almost entirely shot on a single camera. Even with that, the locations in the film look absolutely beautiful. There are so many aerial view shots of the lush green landscape that are immediately edited into quick cuts across the dense forest. This gives the film a feeling that puts it on level ground with the characters. Of all the places in the world that I would like to visit before I die, New Zealand is at the top of that list. This is the final proof of that goal. Commentary should also be given to the music. There is a very minimalist score from Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde, mostly just background guitars. The soundtrack itself is comprised mostly of folk songs, all of which perfectly match the tone of the story. And now for the big negative of the movie: Regret. I regret not seeing this film in theaters in 2016 because it would have easily appeared somewhere on my Top 10 List by the end of the year. So please don’t let its seemingly foreign nature dissuade you; Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an irresistibly quirky and touching dramedy about the sacred bond between father and son. (Or in this case, uncle and nephew) A poignant yet hilarious showcase for great, lesser-known actors, it’s appropriately restrained in its direction. And for that, Hunt of the Wilder people absolutely deserves more recognition from American audiences.

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