By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is of an already highly acclaimed New Zealand film from writer/director/actor/all-round-talent Taika Waititi called Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Based on the book by Barry Crump, Waititi adapts the novel for the big screen and also gives himself an acting credit alongside Sam Neill and Julian Dennison.
The Phoenix in Leicester never lets me down when I need to see rarer gems, and it didn’t disappoint me here either…
Ricky Baker (Dennison) is a delinquent youth sent to live in the country to avoid being dragged down a dodgy way of life. He’s raised by a foster mother Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her slightly odd husband Uncle Hec (Neill). When tragedy occurs in the family, Ricky and Hec must go on the run in the New Zealand bush so the youngster isn’t taken back into care. However, the scene of the tragedy looks suspicious so a national manhunt is ordered.
We begin with the introduction to Ricky, a portly young rebel who has been passed around families because of his unruly behaviour. He is dropped off by child welfare at Aunt Bella’s and Uncle Hec’s home in the countryside for one last attempt of redemption. The child welfare officer, Paula (Rachel House), is a butch villain-type character; except you simply find her too funny to be fearing.
A series of unfortunate events see Ricky and Hec hide out in the hilly badlands of New Zealand. The relentless of Paula tracks them down in the wilderness with redneck hunters and what seems to be the equivalent of MI5 and a SWAT team. It sounds like it escalates quickly, and you’d be right. One thing after another, Hec is painted in the media as kidnapper, then potential murderer and then finally a molester – tough crowd.
The beauty of this film though comes in two forms. Firstly, the characters and the casting and secondly the cinematography. The two leading protagonists, Neill and Dennison, have strong chemistry when playing their respective roles. They firstly grate on each other but slowly pull together when needed. Their witty remarks to one another are highly amusing and it lets the audience connect with them on a better level. Hec is really just a grumpy old man rather than an unhinged maniac; and Ricky isn’t really a thug, he just wants a hottie (hot water bottle) and some attention.
The casting department also worked wonders on Aunt Bella’s character with Rima playing the perfect motherly role with a twist. She’s caring and kind, but also knows how to rumble in the jungle. In one scene, she stabs a pig to death and shouts “well, that’s dinner!”. Rachel House’s character is the exact opposite. She is meant to be this tough welfare agent but she comes across as more of a Disney baddie.
There’s also two scene-stealing sequences in the two-hour film. Taika himself plays a filter-less priest who seems to have a screw loose when delivering a hilarious service. However, it’s Rhys Darby’s survivalist character who steals the show. He believes the government is watching him and so disguises himself as a bush – you must see it to believe it.
Where Waititi really succeeds though is the beautifully establishing sequences and the messages the film leaves you with. The tracking shots show off the beautiful bush landscape and really rams home the message of needing to stick together to get out of difficult situations. The film also asks you to never judge a book by its cover. Waititi doesn’t let go of his quirky and offbeat style but also offers insight into his developing talent of telling intelligent and deeper stories.
Thanks to a blossoming chemistry between Dennison and Neill, we have an impressive film about misunderstood outsiders having an adventure to redeem themselves of everything currently wrong in their lives. It’s a deeper film than an audience may realise after a first watch; but regardless, with a little sprinkle of laugh-out-loud comedy - Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an absolute triumph.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4.5 Stars
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is currently showing until this Thursday (29th) at the Phoenix Cinema in Leicester – certificate 12A