Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a ‘majestical’ movie. Based on the novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, the movie is written and directed by Taika Waititi, known for films such as What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Like the novel itself, the film is divided into eleven chapters, and this New Zealand comedy is full of heart, laughs and beautiful landscapes.
Telling the story of how foster child Ricky (Julian Dennison) gets a rude awakening when he finds himself with a new foster family in the middle of the New Zealand bush, his wannabe gangster attitude is gradually broken down by the affectionate Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata), his new foster mum. However, Bella’s husband, Hec (Sam Neill), does not warm to Ricky, and remains distant and gruff. After a tragedy befalls them, an accident leaves Hec and Ricky stranded in the forest for weeks (accompanied with their dogs Tupac and Zag), and a misunderstanding, the two form a sort of friendship as they try to avoid the authorities which are hunting them.
The film has a great soundtrack, and plenty of pop culture references. Its dialogue is quite quotable, as each character has their own repeated catchphrase which they repeat as they both conform to and defy their own stereotype. In particular, the child welfare worker Paula (Rachel House) repeats the phrase ‘no child left behind’, which alternately makes her look concerned and unhinged. Rhys Darby (famous for his role as band manager Murray in Flight of the Conchords) also makes an appearance as Psycho Sam, a government conspiracy theorist. Although more screen time could have been given to these characters, Waititi’s decision to focus on the relationship Hec and Ricky makes their appearance all the more surprising in the narrative. They also form a red thread which runs throughout the film and provide some comic relief to break up the narrative of Hec and Ricky in the forest.
The camera work in the film is interesting, with many helicopter- and panoramic shots. At times Waititi’s visual storytelling is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s style, particularly when he shows montages of equipment or the passing of time. Hunt for the Wilderpeople also draws a lot of inspiration from American action movies, but transposes it, satirises it and places it in a comedy drama. The film even comes equipped with a car chase and a Lord of the Rings reference.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s laughs are clever, the plot has some unexpected twists, and its emotions are genuine. This film is, fundamentally, a story about family, belonging, perceived masculinity, and how different individuals can come together to form deep personal connections.