Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a step in the family-friendly direction after 2014’s horror mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and it’s an absolute blast. One of the most impressive films at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016, Waititi’s third feature film is destined to enjoy success around the world with all ages.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople isn’t exactly a hard sell; the latest from an established New Zealand talent filled with perfect performances and even more on-point humour. Too often the term “family-film” is a huge turn-off thanks to inconsistent humour and a fear of going too far in child-friendly direction. Waititi understands how to balance the moods perfectly so that the film never feels childish or packed with pretentious sentiment, it’s an honest story told from the heart without an eye to tear-jerking.
A lot of that comes down to the impressive cast of New Zealand talent who spring up throughout. First and foremost Julian Dennison deserves a shit-tonne of credit for being a charismatic lead and a frankly hilarious child star, capable of being a millennial hero without the usual crap characterisation. Sam Neill lends his veritable and adorable talents as Hector, the curmudgeon loner who inherits Dennison’s scrappy foster kid. It’s wonderful to see Neill take a character, who could have been the comic relief grump, and impart such heart and gravitas. Similarly, Rima Te Wiata is an absolute gem here, giving a lovable and integral performance as Ricky’s new foster mum and Hec’s better half.
Aside from the cast and band of well-rendered characters, there’s so much more to enjoy here. This is a film with its mind solely focused on pulling us in, making us care, and then taking us on a wild adventure. Waititi obviously understands the pitfalls of this kind of story, keeping the pace tight with not just a great story, but a stylish mode of storytelling. Hunt for the Wilderpeople has a great pulp vibe summoned through pop synth scoring and some snappy camera work that would feel just as comfortable in Predator or First Blood. The result is a film that is as well-humoured technically, as it is in dialogue and story.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople will no doubt become a staple of not just family film and Waititi’s filmography, but New Zealand cinema as well. It’s a boldly honest film that reaches out of the screen to invite us on a once-in-a-lifetime trip with some ridiculous, world-weary, but ultimately joyous characters.
No matter what you thought of Taiki Waititi’s comedy mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, I can’t push you fast enough into a theatre for this hilarious, bombastic, odd-couple adventure.
Dir. Taika Waititi
Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Waita