Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a delightfully honest and funny film from rising star, writer-director Taika Waititi. Martin Carr reviews one of the best films of 2016…
There is an honesty to the humour here which shines through immediately disarming all comers. Segmented using on-screen chapter headings, the comedy is character driven, observational and cuttingly dry. Sam Neill, Julian Dennsion and Rima Te Wiata as Hec, Ricky and Bella create an easy on-screen chemistry, giving the film warmth and accessibility despite curveball dialogue, genre defying structure and laid back pacing.
Veteran director and writer Taika Waititi has adapted Barry Crump’s Wild Pork and Watercress into something uniquely uplifting, defiantly derivative and at certain points laugh out loud funny. Dennison is a natural, bringing innocence, warmth and awareness to a character at odds with the world and those around him, while Sam Neill’s skill for comic timing and deadpan delivery is a revelation, working off and alongside both Dennison and Te Wiata’s Bella to forge an honest on screen relationship. Rachel House’s Paula is the perfect foil as a hard edged, intelligently incompetent child support worker, mixing pop culture references badly, delivering intentionally clichéd dialogue with savage self-awareness and stealing every scene she turns up in.
Similar in tone to What We Did In The Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople feels ever so slightly removed from reality both in characterisation and structure. Incorporating a world of social media obsessives which sensationalise human interest stories and misinterpret cross generational relationships for tabloid taglines. There is an understated dark edge to this humour drawn from the juxtaposition of dialogue, circumstance and situation, which scores points but never resorts to condescension.
By casting a relative unknown on the one hand and against type on the other, the film gives us something few others have managed to deliver: a painfully funny portrait of quirkiness laced with love, jokes which are really funny and characters which tap into something real. Skilfully skating a fine line between old fashioned opposites attract storytelling and up to date, cutting edge relevance in a world where little remains mysterious, it is little wonder that a combination of big box office and Sundance plaudits propelled Waititi onto the Marvel radar.
If he can translate even a small amount of that freshness into Ragnarok then it may give Marvel back what I feel it has been missing. Namely a fresh pair of eyes to breathe innocence and wonder back into the huge sandbox which this universe has become. With his short What Thor Was Doing During Captain America: Civic War, there is clear evidence that all concerned have warmed to his approach. Incorporating off-the-wall references, left of centre character beats and painfully awkward dialogue scenes, it represents a perfect entre proving Waititi has remained unchanged by the Marvel machine.
As for Hunt For The Wilderpeople, it remains unique. An example of originality a million miles away from Marvel in which the world of Ricky Baker reigns supreme. Take two hours to sit down and invest in Uncle Hec and Auntie Bella to be reminded what feel good feels like.
5 / 5 Stars.