Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople ★★★½

Taika Waititi has proven himself as a gifted and inspired comedic filmmaker through What We Do in the Shadows, a film that takes cue of Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap and fuses it with the rising obsession of vampires in contemporary culture, demonstrating his capabilities to be playful with the handled material, yet managing to prove beyond a skit-like stitching through its narrative flow, and somehow find gaps for moments of character development, even if touched on with a light tap, and still managing to compress itself within a short running time. It was a film that had me belly laughing, a reaction that is rarely evoked from me these past couple of years, leaving me in anticipation for what this filmmaker would do next.

It was the announcement of Waititi’s helming of the upcoming Thor film for the MCU that left me in the impression that this would be Waititi’s next film, only to have Hunt for the Wilderpeople drop on me out of nowhere, and possibly through this spontaneous arrival into my consciousness, it propelled me to actively seek it. That comedic touch that Waititi crafts so well in his previous film is present here but in a manner that is far more reserved, in favouring the dramatic energy that advances the film, ensuring that its characters and their development is placed with greater emphasis than the comedic circumstances they find themselves in, relying on the personalities that establishes these characters and naturally create humour from their storylines and banter.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows a New Zealander delinquent, Ricky (Julian Dennison), who has been bounced by the system from alternatives of Juvenile prison, multiple foster homes, eventually reaching the stop before the end of the line, taken in by the warming and committed Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and the more distant Uncle Hector (Sam Neill), hoping to create a home that would properly care and appreciate him. It is a film that explores one’s desire to tightly grasp on the warmth of life, whether it may be in the presence of a stubbornly isolating father figure or the baggage of a lost child, finding unconditional love beyond the initial layers of friction.

This is a film that gleefully plays with its premise and utilises the isolated circumstance of both Ricky and Hector as an opportunity for development, both for themselves and their relationship, but Waititi manages to entertain the audience through the hilarious banter that they share, the polarising personalities that they possess, and the absurdity that surrounds them, mistaking Hector as a kidnapping pedophile as a sort of meltdown to the recent trauma that he had endured.

It is a film that manages to create an engaging momentum and continues with it until the end, balancing moments of laughter and drama, shifting from the growing chemistry between its two protagonists and the relentless menace of its antagonist, Paula (Rachel House), who plays her role to comedic perfection. It blends a wave of both physical and dry verbal humour, aiming towards a greater audience without losing focus on its more substantial intentions.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople proves once again that Taika Waititi is an individual with cinematic talent, whose capabilities as a filmmaker shows striking precision in his attempts of capturing dramatic tenderness and outlandish humour, one that is crowd pleasing but far from dumbed down, managing to speak a unique voice that would prove critical in the process of his next project. Here is hoping that little outside influence would come towards creating his vision upon his upcoming films.

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