2016 – New Zealand
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Julian Denninson, Sam Neill, Rachel House, Ocscar Kightley
Words: R. Topham
Taika Waititi’s latest frivolous endeavour stars new found gem Julian Dennison as problem child Ricky, whose difficult upbringing in the city forged a passion for hip-hop and aversion to the prospect of family life, whereas his foster ‘uncle’ Hec (Sam Neill) would pick sleeping on the cold hard ground of the forest over the luxuries of modern life all day, every day. Things go from circumstantially awkward to downright primal when Hec’s wife Bella dies suddenly, Ricky forges a master plan to fake his own death in a fire but instead just burns down a shed and flees into the surrounding woodland, causing Hec to follow him because, ‘heck’, why not abandon the comfort of your home to be a primitive nomad for a few months?
Much of the comedic value lies in Ricky and Hec’s hostile relationship, which is underpinned by their shared sense of loneliness, cynicism, and unwillingness to trust others, but the nutty social services rep (Rachel House) and her bumbling stooge Andy (Oscar Kightley) are live-action caricatures, and just the right amount of satirically deranged. And with a steady zoom into a dishevelled Hec stood stoically among the shrubbery, the death of an innocent dog, somewhat inept agents of the local authority chasing the missing pair, the dry humour, and the countryside setting itself, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the modern day, transgenerational, all-male version of Wes Anderson’s pre-teen love-fest, Moonrise Kingdom.
Waititi may have used up his best of serving of deadpan charm in What We Do in the Shadows, but saved some “magestical” treats for his Wilderpeople, and knows when to stop the buffoonery for ample tenderness. Largely due to Julian Dennison’s phenomenal comedic timing and wry delivery, this quietly hilarious backpacking bromance is a welcome change from the homogeneity of ‘comedies’ Hollywood churns out every year.