I went to see Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople the other day.
I won’t beat around the bush.
It was bloody brilliant.
I haven’t laughed so hard at the cinema since… well, since Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, probably. But Hunt for the Wilderpeople is better than What We Do in the Shadows. There’s some pretty serious shit lurking behind the laughs.
The film couldn’t be any more New Zealand if it tried. You’d definitely have to have lived here a while to get the most out of it, but anyone with a heart will find it both hilarious and moving.
The story’s fairly simple: grumpy old loner goes on journey with kid. Nothing ground-breaking there. It’s the way the story’s told that makes it so wonderful. The way it stays down-to-earth despite becoming steadily more ridiculous and fantastical.
Sam Neill’s performance helps with that. I’ve loved Sam Neill – well, Dr Alan Grant from Jurassic Park – since I was a little kid. I didn’t even know he was a New Zealander until a few years ago. Watching Wilderpeople, though, I completely forgot about his other roles. He was just Hec.
Everyone in it was great. Julian Dennison was so real as Ricky Baker – the troubled teen doomed to bounce around in “the system” until he ends up in juvenile prison or dead – in great contrast to most of the other characters. The supporting cast definitely weren’t “real” – they were cartoons.
But not in a bad way. I mean Rhys Darby’s mad bushman character was almost too much. It almost… didn’t quite fit. But it was very funny, so I think this can be forgiven. The same goes for Taika Waititi’s wild-eyed priest.
Of course, the New Zealand bush itself has a starring role in the film and it is beautiful. One of the first things my partner said upon leaving the cinema was, “We need to go on more bush walks.” I agreed. The film made me feel lucky to have such beauty on my doorstep. It didn’t go out of its way to make New Zealand glossy, though. It showed New Zealand as it is. The good and the grotty.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a feel-good film that relies a lot on nostalgia, but never overly sentimentalises anything. Hints of tragedy are quickly followed by comedy. It’s a film that’ll touch your heart and make you want to show it to all your relatives as quickly as possible.