Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) by Taika Waititi
By Jessica Carr
Trees Birds Rivers Sky
Running with my Uncle Hec
This haiku perfectly describes the heartfelt nature of Hunt for the Wilderpeople and is also written by its protagonist—spunky 13-year-old Ricky Baker. I’m not even going to try and be objective in this review because I adore director Taika Waititi and pretty much anything related to New Zealand. However, I will try to convey why I think I’m not exaggerating by saying that this film is one of the best of the year.
The story begins when foster child Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is placed at the home of Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hecter (Sam Neill). They are an older couple that weren’t able to have children. They live in a very secluded part of New Zealand. After a tragic event, Ricky and Hec “go bush” while authorities try to hunt them down.
There are very humorous moments in the film mixed with sentimentality, loss, and hope. You can expect to experience a range of emotions while watching Hunt for the Wilderpeople. But, if you’ve seen a Taika film then you know that’s his specialty. He usually uses a tragic event as the turning point of his films. In What We Do in the Shadows, it was the fiery demise of Petyr and in Boy, the movie’s tone changes when the father has to confront the death of his wife. Taika uses loss to create a moment of evaluation for his characters. They have to reflect on where they go from there and how they can heal. All of this is conveyed with lighthearted tones.
In Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the scene that you would expect to feel the most pain would be the funeral—but Taika plays a quirky reverend that delivers a sermon that is anything but sad. I couldn’t help feeling a little bad at laughing during a funeral scene, but then I realized it’s exactly what that character would’ve wanted so it actually made sense.
Movies like this one wouldn’t be so successful without powerful performances. Sam Neill and Julian Dennison deliver their end of the bargain flawlessly. Julian plays such a believably feisty adolescent paired next to Sam Neill’s impenetrable performance as hard on the outside, soft on the inside Uncle Hec. The two pair well together and is reminiscent of a live action version of Up with more gangster references.
The cinematography is beautiful. Shots are filled with glorious New Zealand wilderness. Taika uses editing that reminded me of Moonrise Kingdom in certain places. The music featured in the film is a nice blend of synthesized score and pop songs. But, the best song would have to be the Ricky Baker birthday song called “Trifecta.”
It turns out that they filmed the scene singing the “Happy Birthday” song then, realized they didn’t have the rights to it so, the cast just made up a song on the fly and it became the adorable song in the film. I really want someone to sing it to me for my next birthday, but probably replace teenager with adult woman.
At the end of the day, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a feel good film. Taika gives us loveable characters with flaws and over the course of the film, we have the opportunity to see them grow into better people.
I’m happy that Taika is doing the next Thor film, even if some Cinematary peeps are salty about it…but, I do hope that he can continue to do his own original films and give us the magic that I know only he can make.