Taika Waititi is quickly becoming one of my favorite people in cinema. With last year’s gut busting and hilarious vampire comedy entry ‘What we do in the shadows’ showing a unique style of humor and wit I am pleased to say that his following film only expands that ability and originality. ‘Hunt for The Wilderpeople’ is a larger film than the mostly self contained Vampire slapstick, but that’s in the very nature of the story at hand, a young boy and his new foster parent bonding together through a footchase in “the bush” from New Zealand’s brass.
The story begins with the introduction of Ricky Baker, portrayed here with comedic skill and heart by Julian Dennison, a young city boy raised on rap and foster care as he arrives to his latest home in the countryside of New Zealand. Rima Te Wiata and Sam Neill (“Alan!”) portray Ricky’s new foster parents as Aunt Bella and Uncle Hec respectively. They’re met by Ricky’s handlers, the child care services officers Paula and Andy portrayed by Rachel House & Oscar Kightley. Between the five of them this is the core of the cast with others popping in and out of the story to compliment it as it careens along, like ‘Psycho Sam’ for example, but more about him later. Ricky quickly decides the country life is not for him and attempts to run away, resulting in several poor attempts at the arduous journey back to civilization. However as soon he begins to get acquainted with his new surroundings and family an event takes place that forces Ricky and Uncle Hec to head into “the bush”on the run from Paula, Andy, and other police forces as a manunt through the wilderness ensues.
What stood out to me the most in this film was its unwavering ability to mix violence, death, saddness and grief into a story that is mostly giggle inducing and silly in its own awkward, yet assuredly confident, way. This is most certainly one of the most original films I have seen in awhile, ‘Swiss Army Man’ notwithstanding. Everything from the pace to the score is an oddly beautiful creative decision. The story is chunked into ten chapters and an epilouge which helps to keep everything light and quick when dealing with the heavy material in small moments, this keeps the mood upbeat and from getting too downtrodden. The humor here is impeccable and the cinematography is leaps and bounds above what was on display in ‘What we do in the shadows’, but the real prize here is the character work that is done. All the actors did a fine job but the bulk of the accolades go to Sam Neill’s Uncle Hec and Julian Dennison’s Ricky Baker. I dare you to not adore Ricky’s childlike horror when he witnesses Aunt Bella kill a wild pig with her bare hands as he’s constantly trying to maintain his ganster bravado. Or to get the “Ricky Baker” birthday jingle out of your head while Uncle Hec deadpans apathy as Aunt Bella cheerily taps out the tune on a tiny plastic piano.
This film has a whimsical sense of humor and enough charm to melt any adventure loving cinephile’s heart. If you can find a showing of the film anywhere I strongly suggest giving it a watch, although I saw it at a film festival so showings may be hard to come by, but it is more than worth your time and money. Pyscho Sam, “a bushman.. man, or a bush?” alone is worth the price of admission just for his small yet memorable role of a crazy woodsman hiding from the government.
Final Score: 5/5