Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Deep into the youg-adult wilderness.

by Alejandro Turdó

Taika Waititi’s craft as a director indicates in a clear fashion how easy it comes to some the bleding of drama and comedy in a movie. If you count yourself among the lucky ones who saw What We Do in the Shadows (2014) – his previous film – you are in for a treat with Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016), a story filled with quirky characters, bizarre situations and heartwarming dramedy.

It all takes place in the New Zealand wilderness, where aged couple Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill) decide to adopt Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a troublesome chubby city kid with a heavy record as a troublemaker. Even though Ricky’s first days with his new family are anything but promising, it all eventually starts falling into place.

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Tragedy strikes just as the good times start rolling, putting Ricky and Hector on the lam and forcing them to leave the comfort of their home and make it deep into the forest. Once the plot sets in motion, we witness the evolution of an unexpected relationship between an old  grumpy man and a 13-year-old troublesome boy with a good heart.

It’s imperative that we lay a few words on Sam Neill’s performance as Hector. Taking into considerarion an actor with a career of 40+ years –who has played a cardinal, an adventurous paleonthologist, a scientist aboard a haunted spaceship and many more – the 70-year-old keeps getting better and better at this, channeling with enormous depth the nature of an elderly man under such particular circumstances.

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But in spite of Neill’s brillant performance, Julian Dennison’s portrait of Ricky Baker is the heart of the story. The voluptous troublemaker experiences the biggest transformation throughout the film. Every word and every gesture gives an accurate representation of a character that grows on you.

As an adaptation of Barry Crump’s 1986 novel Wild Pork and Watercress, Wititi’s film puts the accent on the ‘odd couple’ forced to work togheter, resulting in an almost perfect balance between Drama, Comedy and weird adventure. The feeling of innocence and good spirit that roams on every frame comes a long way when presenting us what under a different light could’ve been read as a harsh story of loss and loneliness.

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Hunt For The Wilderpeople introduce us to some New Zealand’s folk stories and traditions, but still manages to reach universal issues, such as the need to become part of a family, a group of people we can depend on. These kinds of themes make it an enjoyable film across the geographical borders.

Filled with more than a few “Is this supposed to be funny?” whimsical moments that hold some resemblance to Wes Anderson’s use of imagery while paying self-tribute to Waititi’s previous work, Hunt For The Wilderpeople has all that it takes to become an ageless cult classic.


Alejandro TurAle / Writer (CABA, Argentina – 1982) Ale got his degree in Image & Sound Design at Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) and is also a Technician in Audiovisual Post-Production. For year’s he’s been a critic for EscribiendoCine and A Sala Llena, a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic and a Redactor of Digital Content. He talks film at http://www.radioborder.tv.

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