Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a new comedy from New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi. His last film, the vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, was hilarious and easily my favourite comedy of 2014, but sadly didn’t register with most of the general public. Well for my money Hunt for the Wilderpeople is even better.
Based on the novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows Rickey Baker (Dennison), a young child who gets adopted by Bella and her husband Hec (Neill). Then when Bella dies and child services are coming to collect Ricky, he runs away to the New Zealand bush, and ends up on the run with Hec. It sound quite dark, but actually manages to be one of the most hilarious, entertaining, and surprisingly sweet films of the year. I don’t think I’ve laughed harder at a film this year, but then Waititi’s off beat and bizarre comedy style plays right into my tastes. If you enjoyed the comedy in What We Do In The Shadows, or a show like Flight Of The Concords then Hunt for the Wilderpeople is likely to be to your taste.
Waititi has also accrued a fantastic cast. Sam Neill as Hec is at his very best. He starts as a gruff and curmudgeonly character that wants almost nothing to do with Ricky. But throughout the film Neill slowly draws that back and brings out more of his comedic abilities. Meanwhile Waititi has found a brilliant young actor in Julian Dennison, who plays Baker. He gives a brilliant well-rounded performance; he plays the comedy brilliantly, especially for such a young actor. Not only that but he manages to hold his own opposite Neill, who is a top actor. There is also a selection of New Zealand actors who feature in smaller or cameo roles, including Flight Of The Concords veteran Rhys Darby.
One thing that did actually catch me off guard a little was just how touching a film Hunt for the Wilderpeople is. Ricky and Hec actually find family in one another throughout the film. I was very impressed that Waititi wasn’t afraid to allow the film to have these more moving moments and scenes, and didn’t feel the need to undercut them with humour as many comedies do. The only really criticism I would have of the film is that it is a rather thin story. But the character’s journeys, the complete hilarity, and the ridiculousness of the film mean it easily overcomes this.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a genuinely hilarious comedy, with some great lead performances, and a touching family story. This all makes this one of the most entertaining films of the year, let alone one of the best comedies.