Picture the striking landscape of New Zealand, a chubby juvenile delinquent and a scruffy old man. This is Hunt for the Wilderpeople. New Zealand writer and director Taiki Waititi memorably depicts quirky black humour with pathos around almost every corner. On the surface it’s an odd comedy about a fat little kid and the middle-aged grump, but deep down it’s a heart-warming film about two world-weary people in need of a little saving.
The rising auteur’s third film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, wittily examines 12-year-old ‘delinquent’ Ricky Baker. (Delinquent can be in inverted commas, because his horrible crimes include spitting off a bridge.) Dressed in his finest hip-hop street gear, Ricky is escorted by a wrathful social worker to a remote homestead on a North Island farm, who jokes to Ricky’s new parents, Bella and Hec, that there are “No returns”. The daffy comforting warmth of his new home is (spoiler alert) shattered by Bella’s sudden death, prompting a hilarious cameo that sets the groove for the adventures of Ricky and Hec, strangely compelling them further and further into a bizarre rampage manhunt.
There are prevalent echoes of Wes Anderson’s 2012 comedy Moonrise Kingdom, with distinct witty instincts blended into its alluring coming-of-age tale. Waititi alternates moments of action, including ferocious wild pig action, with countless segments of humour and touching moments of drama. The stunning backdrop of New Zealand’s pristine countryside derives a loveable wackiness to the film – complete with amateurish songs and picturesque production design. The characters are also exceptionally well paired, Ricky’s pottymouth and childish unpredictability offsetting the grizzled, mostly sensible Hec, played by Sam Neill. In adapting Barry Crump’s book, Waititi succeeds with a variety of offbeat elements, pairing outstanding set design with a soundtrack your ears cannot miss.
But the most wonderful part of Hunt for the Wilderpeople is it’s emphasise on the life of misfits and whacko’s disposed from society. It drives home this enormous idea that humans are altogether good … if you can give them a chance. And trust me, you can’t help but fall in love with Ricky … and Hec for that matter too.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an enjoyable, heart-warming, modest little story thoughtfully illustrated by an artist drawn to male dynamics. The laughter in the theatre drowned out the many many funny parts, but the most prevailing entity of the film was its power to draw the audience to the story and attach them to the characters. This wonderful film sets to prove that although some people are a little whacky, they can surprisingly turn out to be oh-so-loveable human beings.