Hunt for the Wilderpeople was one of my most anticipated films to see at SXSW this year. It’s writer-director Taika Waititi’s follow-up to his 2014 indie hit What We Do in the Shadows. I have yet to see that film (although I really want to), but I know Waititi best for the episodes of Flight of the Conchords that he directed. I was a really big fan of the show (and really bummed that I couldn’t get tickets to see them in Austin this summer) and I’ve been excited to see Waititi as a director. Thanks to his success with this film and his previous work, Marvel has hired him to direct the third Thor movie, which due out summer 2017. He’s big time now. My review of Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople involves newcomer Julian Dennison as Ricky, a juvenile delinquent who is placed in the care of Paula and Hec, an older couple living in the New Zealand countryside. Ricky and Hec, played by Sam Neill, get lost in the woods one day after Ricky attempts to run away, and a national manhunt for the both of them is in effect in New Zealand. Hec is portrayed as kidnapping Ricky, and the two struggle to survive and adapt in the wilderness because of this.
The film, which is an adaptation of the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, is a really lovely movie. It’s very, very funny, but it can also be very heartfelt and incredibly moving at times. Waititi is able to pull off this balance so eloquently and perfectly that the entire experience feels worthwhile from beginning to end. I loved everything from the first frame of the film all the way to very end of it. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the finest films of this year, and one of the best films about adolescence since any of Steven Spielberg’s early pictures.
The performances by our two leads are just fantastic. Julian Dennison plays the gangsta-rap loving mischief so flawlessly and hilariously. and his chemistry with Sam Neill, whose also wonderful in the film, makes this experience feel genuine and memorable. Neill gives one of the best performances of his career as a grieving Hec, who has had his share of losses through the film. He comes off as mean and stubborn at first to Ricky, but as they get lost together in the woods his softer side really starts to open up, and it becomes an absolutely lovely performance from the veteran actor. We also get a terrific villain performance by Rachel House as the Social Services worker whose hellbent on getting Ricky back, and Rhys Darby in a fun cameo that I won’t reveal.
One other plus to the movie is the breathtaking cinematography by Lachlan Milne. From the vistas of the New Zealand countryside to the close-ups of actor’s faces, this movie is just gorgeous to look at. I doubt it’ll be considered since the Academy doesn’t really care much for independent New Zealand films (only the Hollywood New Zealand ones), but it’s really impressive work, and I hope I’m not the only one who notices it.
To sum up, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fantastic movie, and a great way to continue SXSW with (haven’t seen one movie that I haven’t liked so far). The festival is shaping up to be arguably the best one in years, and its thanks to movies like this one. For some dumb reason, the film doesn’t have a release date here in the United States. It’s scheduled to be released on March 31st in New Zealand, but nowhere else. I hope that all the buzz that this film is getting that’ll change because so. Whenever this one comes out, I hope you go see it (along with Everybody Wants Some!!).