Following the astounding cult, and in recent months mainstream, success of Taika Waititi’s hilarious 2014 vampire mockumentary, What We Do In The Shadows, his fourth feature film, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, was something I simply had to see. If it was anything like the former, I knew I’d be in for a creative and fantastically-written indie comedy which featured some expert offbeat performances, and I’m pleased to say that this is exactly what I was met with.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople follows the story of anarchic youth, Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) after he is delivered by child services to his new foster family, the motherly and larger-than-life Bella (Rima Te Wiata), and her considerably more grouchy and downbeat partner, ‘Hec’ (Sam Neill). Avoiding spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, the course of events which ensue following Ricky’s arrival result in himself and Hec having to battle the elements to survive, whilst simultaneously attempting to outrun child services in the New Zealand outback. As can be expected from such a premise, the laughs are relentless. Waititi’s prowess as a screenwriter meshes perfectly with his use of visual comedy, creating truly lovable and well-developed characters, which could potentially have felt a little thin had a less competent director been at the helm.
Stylistically, the division of the film into ten chapters and an epilogue felt structurally similar to the later works of Wes Anderson. Indeed, the cinematography was, at times, hugely reminiscent of the aforementioned director, with the framing even evoking memories of the work of Richard Ayoade; particularly 2013’s The Double. These are loose comparisons and do not in any way detract from the originality of Waititi’s direction, but the visual similarities to some of his fellow modern day directors is noteworthy. The film is brimming with beautiful, memorable landscape shots of New Zealand, with Waititi proving his natural and imaginative directorial aptitude by stepping into more ambitious territory than his previous films.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople boasts an array of standout performances, but is ultimately Julian Dennison and Sam Neill’s film. The pair display an undeniably strong chemistry, which lends itself to the wonderful fusion of comedy and sentimentality that is executed so well here. It was neither too overtly and artificially emotional, nor too joke-reliant: a difficult balance to maintain and one that this film accomplished masterfully. Yet another addition to Taika Waititi’s flourishing career, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is an excellent example of what the comedy genre is missing, and proof that a compelling story, genuinely intriguing characters, sublime cinematography and jokes aplenty are all achievable in one amalgamation. It undoubtedly establishes itself as one of the most enjoyable films of 2016.