New Zealand is known for a few things: Lord of the Rings, Flight of the Conchords and the uninhabited terrain of forest known as “the bush”, which just so happens to be the setting for Taika Waititi’s adventure comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Wilderpeople tells the story of Ricky (Julian Dennison), an angst filled teen who thinks he‘s the reincarnation of Tupac. A foster kid who doesn’t quite know how to fit in, Ricky has always struggled to find his place in the world. But his luck takes a turn for the better when Bella, a quirky woman, and her bitter husband Hec (Sam Neill) take him in.
But things aren’t all great with the newly formed family. After a horrific tragedy Ricky‘s status on the farm is up in the air, prompting him to run away into the bush in hopes of escaping the situation. When Hec goes in after him the police become involved, scouring the thick terrain for the newly formed odd couple.
Dennison is a real treat to watch as the foul-mouthed Ricky; he brings out the best in his co-stars, especially Neill, who couldn’t be more different in terms of style and temperament. Their relationship evolves organically, so much so that you forget that you are watching a narrative and not a documentary on the trials and tribulations of adoption. The film benefits from Neill’s understated performance. As Hec he elevates a rather generic character into a more tender and weathered man.
Much of the film’s success can be credited to a well crafted, detail oriented script from writer director Taika Waititi. Refusing to shy away from flawed characters, he creates a series of dynamic personalities. Their gentle spirits make them relatable to those of us witnessing their story, relating to the events as they take shape on screen.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople balances comedy and tragedy effortlessly as it deals with abandonment, resentment, acceptance and the meaning of family. Waititi has a keen sense of the human condition and develops complex and engaging characters; ultimately creating a film that New Zealand should be very proud of.