New Zealand has played the backdrop to many successful films – the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Narnia films, even Avatar – but now it’s at the forefront of one of this year’s funniest and best films, helmed by one of New Zealand’s finest: Taika Waititi.
In Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a ‘gangster’ foster child, Ricky (Julian Dennison), moves into a new home in the country with loving foster mum Auntie Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and grumpy Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). At first resistant to his new environment, Ricky soon forms a bond with his new family, and when he and Uncle Hec decide to leave home and go bush, it sparks a nationwide manhunt led by well-meaning child services worker Paula (Rachel House). Known for such cult classics as Eagle vs. Shark and What We Do in the Shadows, Taika Waititi is a master storyteller, giving us a heartfelt story about belonging and connecting to the land around us, appreciating those around you and the wonder of adolescence. As Hec teaches Ricky the ways of the bush and the two come across other bush-goers on the journey, Waititi redefines the meaning of family and implores us to enjoy the beauty of nature, giving us some beautiful New Zealand wilderness along the way. But through all this beauty, he doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life and growing up: as a foster child, Ricky has experienced more than his fair share of abuse and loss, and Hec’s mysterious background gives him the air of a man that’s seen it all.
And despite all this weight, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is such a funny comedy, with its silly, sweet humour easily outsmarting the other comedies of this year so far. From Bella’s “Ricky Baker Song” to Ricky’s penchant for haikus, the comedy works with the story and enhances the characters, whilst also making you squirm in your seat with laughter. As possibly one of the year’s funniest films, it’s also a comedy you could take children to, which is a rare find these days – it’s funny without even trying, with an inspired cameo from Waititi as a minister, fleeting but showcasing just how much comedic talent New Zealand has to offer.
Because New Zealand is full of so much talent. Julian Dennison is just a joy to watch as Ricky, resident gangster and “skuxx”, who also gives a certain vulnerability to a foster child who’s been through a lot. Sam Neill is highly enjoyable as the grouchy Hec, and the two work really well together. Rima Te Wiata’s loving mania is wonderful to watch as she welcomes Ricky to his new home, and Rachel House and Oscar Knightley are the perfect bumbling duo, as they search the New Zealand bush for our two favourite gangsters.
Taika Waititi has done it again – Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an incredibly satisfying film, taking what could’ve been two people just wandering around the bush and crafting a heartfelt, tense, hilarious film that defies its own silliness to make ‘going bush’ sound like the best lifestyle ever. New Zealand has played the natural home to many big films, but never before has it felt so right.
And now, in true Ricky Baker style, I’d like to finish with a haiku:
This film is so great,
I liked a local film – what?
Can’t wait to see more.
And, here’s my list of the top five films starring in Hunt for the Wilderpeople:
- Jurassic Park – Sam Neill
- Paper Planes – Julian Dennison
- Boy – Taika Waititi
- What We Do in the Shadows – Taika Waititi
- Flight of the Concords – Rhys Darby