Hunt for the Wilderpeople
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th March 2016
Continuing his preoccupation with fatherless lads who latch on to unwilling paternal figures, Taika Waititi’s fourth feature introduces us to an XL-hoodied, unsmiling young larrikin called Ricky Baker.
Ricky, we are told by the Child Youth and Family officer (a hilariously gruff-faced Rachel House from White Lies), is a real bad egg – done for breaking stuff, throwing stuff: the whole nine yards. So Ricky is shipped off to live in the bush with a well-meaning childless couple. Well, technically half of a well-meaning childless couple, since Rima Te Wiata’s Aunt Bella instantly loves Ricky unconditionally, but Sam Neill’s terse Hec (“Don’t call me Uncle”) is considerably less enthusiastic.
Everything about Hunt for the Wilderpeople charms and delights – especially its preternaturally talented young lead, the charismatic Julian Dennison (the cutest thing in Shopping and now the smartest thing you’ll see on a breakfast TV show’s couch). Te Wiata and Neill are pitch-perfect in their Yin and Yang relationship (her: blunt while warmly smiling; him: wary yet caring, despite himself). The script, adapted from Barry Crump’s book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Waititi himself, is snappy, consistently witty and moves at the pace of two wanted men on the run from the law. Terrific 1980s synth music laces a soundtrack that’s worth purchasing so you can continue to get the warm fuzzies in your own time.
While Boy discomforted some viewers with its humorous take on the sad reality of a child idolising a ne’er-do-well parent, Wilderpeople’s central male bonding is much more touching, and as the two fugitives decamp to the bush, the plot effortlessly weaves a caper which is part-absurd, part-damn serious.
Waititi’s burgeoning directorial style evokes comparison to Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) in aspects of his aesthetic, but the Kiwi’s superiority is in imbuing his stories with pathos and a parochialism which is heart-warming rather than cringy. While there are numerous nods to cultural references only a local audience will appreciate, Ricky and Hec’s emotional journey is one which every viewer can climb aboard.