A Hilarious Journey Through New Zealand
DIRECTED BY TAIKA WAITITI/2016
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is from director Taika Waititi, who directed What We Do in The Shadows. I did not know this when I saw an advanced screening of Wilderpeople, and it may have been for the better. It gives me a comparative opportunity to what I had for Shadows, which was a movie I was disappointed with. Not that I don’t recommend it, but the hype hurt the film in my eyes. Which is unfair to hold that external factor against a film, but we’re all humans, and I always wondered what it would have been like to go into it unprepared.
Well, with Hunt for the Wilderpeople, I had that chance without realizing it.
Hec and Bella (Sam Neil and Rima Te Wiata) open the film preparing to meet their new foster kid Ricky (Julian Dennison). He is dropped off by overly zealous child welfare officer Paula (Rachel House), who warns the parents how misbehaved the child is. Ricky doesn’t seem like the friendliest kid in the world, but we suspect Paula is probably just a spaz. Thank God for the film, she is a spaz. More on that later.
Any young director who wants to study how to direct comedy, here is a gift just for you.
Ricky and Hec immediately bump heads, but he quickly warms to the sweet and warm Bella, whose warmness doesn’t dissipate during any moment, even when killing a wild boar and smearing the blood all over her face. But Bella soon collapses and dies (not a spoiler, literally in the first 15 minutes) and Hec and Ricky are stuck with each other.
This isn’t really cool with either of them, so Ricky stages a fake suicide, which is pretty incompetent even for a 12 year-old, makes a run for it through the forests of New Zealand, and Hec soon catches up with him and they go on a journey together.
Is any actor better at being gruff and short with kids than Sam Neill? It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Jurassic Park, and I forgot how much of the wonderment of the kids in that film was balanced out by his demeanor. Well that demeanor is back, with even more hilarious results. And Waititi is a master at comedic timing. Every performances is filled with the perfect timing. He directs it to perfection. There were character exchanges in the film that had me rolling. While thinking about it afterwards, I realized the dialogue was only mildly humorous on page, but every character waits the perfect amount of beats to respond to each other. Any young director who wants to study how to direct comedy, here is a gift just for you.
Besides the expectation, another reason I may prefer Wilderpeople to Shadows is the serious setup allows for the humor to drop harder. Shadows was a goofy premise, which already had you overly-prepared for the jokes. In Wilderpeople, there are some actual serious situations used for humor.
Like the aforementioned child service officer Paula, who is on a manhunt (womanhunt?) to catch Ricky, whom she believes is being abused and molested, but she also considers him a dangerous fugitive. During one moment, she compares herself to the Terminator and him to Sarah Connor. And “Sarah Connor from the first Terminator. Before she could do chin-ups.”
If you loved What We Do in The Shadows, you will love this. Actually no matter how you felt about it, you will love this. Hunt for The Wilderpeople will hit all emotions (so be ready for some tears) and is a movie that will be growing over the years from word-of-mouth. So give it a chance now, so you can claim some credit for its eventual cult status.