Hunt For The Wilderpeople Review
Does the name Taika Waititi mean anything to you? If it doesn't it certainly should, because he's an independent filmmaker who is about to go supernova by next year. I first encountered Taika Waititi when I DVR'd a movie from Showtime called "What We Do In The Shadows," it was a "Office-style" documentary-comedy about a group of vampires living together and how they live out their daily lives. Its such a clever take on the vampire movie and it was filled with perfect homages and big laughs. I knew then that Taika Waititi was a person to be reckoned with, a name that should be household, no matter how many movies he has under his belt. You may really start hearing his name tossed around once "Thor: Ragnarok" hits theaters, because Waititi is hard at work directing that film as we speak. Since San Diego Comic-Con this past summer, Waititi has already had some genuine fun with "Thor: Ragnarok." More than ever I am wildly curious about a new "Thor" film and I hope Waititi is able to sneak some of his unique, personal humor into this massive Marvel machine.
"What We Do In The Shadows" was such a remarkable discovery that I feel compelled to push Waititi's latest film, "Hunt For The Wilderpeople" on everyone. Everyone should see this film. This film features a quasi-Wes Anderson vibe, but its completely Waititi. This is a different type of comedy that zigs every time you think its going to zag. Every time you think you have the film figured out, it continues to surprise you. Plus, any film that can use Nina Simone's "Sinner Man" to near expert use deserves credit altogether.
Julian Dennison plays Ricky Baker, a child who sent by child welfare services to go live with his Aunt and Uncle out in the country since no foster family want him. Ricky is a city kid, and he's immersed in the "gangsta rap" lifestyle. At first, you can tell Ricky is hopelessly out-of-place. You think this will be a battle-of-the-wills type movie where Ricky will remain defiant against his newfound family until they learn to love each other.
You'd think that, and then you'd be wrong.
Ricky really begins to connect with his quirky Aunt Bella (Rima Te Waita) and his delirious Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). Everything seems to be going just fine, until Aunt Bella suddenly and unexpectedly passes away. After an offbeat yet hilarious funeral, we are left with Ricky and Uncle Hec, who can't really connect with each other at all. But they will, right? The rest of the movie will be your typical, Hollywood film about two opposing forces coming together and calling each other family?
Well, you'd be wrong again.
Instead, Ricky runs away, fakes his own death and tries to make it on his own in the surrounding wilderness. Eventually, Uncle Hec catches up with him. Child services return, demanding Ricky to give him to a new family, but they believe the mentally unstable Uncle Hec kidnapped Ricky and is on the run, which leads to manhunt for Uncle Hec. Ricky thinks him and his uncle should stand their ground, which leads to a most unexpected comedy. Its amazing that by this point, I completely threw formula out the window and sat back and enjoyed the film Waititi had made for me. There is an offbeat, almost otherworldly humor found in "Hunt For The Wilderpeople'' which completely works for the movie. All played over a carefully picked soundtrack that matches each track to each scene.
What is also amazing are all the fantastic performances, made up of mostly people I had never heard of before. The work done by Julian Dennison is very good, and this young man is someone we will be hearing about for a long time. Sam Neill? Well, he's a veteran at this point, but I can say without hesitation that this is one of his best performances. Through slicked-back silver hair and a big, bushy beard, he disappears into the role. Delivering a performance unlike any other. There is also palpable supporting work done by Rhys Darby, Rachel House, Oscar Knighley, and a cameo by Waititi himself which is quite hilarious.
"Hunt For The Wilderpeople," is about finding your people, and its about coming of age. It a humorous way, it defines who we are as people, our taste for adventure, our need to prove ourselves, to defend what we love, and nurture what we care about. There are relentless themes spilling over each frame about belonging and family and survival that it nearly knocked me flat. Waititi has lots of fun with his themes, but he makes sure they matter.
Anybody who is a fan of comedy in general, deserves to put this film on their watchlist. Watch out for Taika Waititi. If I didn't say it enough already.
FINAL GRADE: A+