“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is a New Zealand comedy-drama written and directed by the brain behind “What We Do in the Shadows”, Taika Waititi. This film is much more straightforward and contained than Waititi’s vampire mockumentary, but it makes up for its narrative simplicity with an off-kilter sense of humour and three genuine lead performances.
Initially, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” may seem like a quirky throwaway film, but when you strip it back the story is grounded in the harsh reality of loneliness and living with grief, and it’s this foundation which explains the oddity of the characters and their decisions. The film begins with its lead protagonist Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) reluctantly being placed in a new foster home having been labelled as a ‘bad egg’ by child services, but as time goes by he begins to love his foster mother, Bella (Rima Te Wiata), and adjusts to his new life. Things are going well but sadly for Ricky things collapse, and in an effort to escape reality he runs away into the bush with his disgruntled foster father, Uncle Hec (Sam Neill).
The pair are a classic odd couple; Ricky is a fat city kid with a bad attitude who secretly wants to be loved and looked after, whereas Hec is a farmhand capable of living off the land who essentially wants to be left to his own devices. This makes for a fun if not slightly clichéd dynamic and also leads to a series of hilarious hijinks, but it’s also where the film falters slightly because the movie peters out as it nears its end.
As you might expect the duo learn from each other; Ricky quite clearly gains new skills like hunting and foraging, but Hec’s growth is less clear and is mainly signified by his increased sympathy for Ricky as the film progresses, and then more forcefully through the haiku that he recites towards the movie’s conclusion. However, this attempt to generate emotional investment from the audience is difficult to reconcile with the refreshing humour that the film possesses, and ultimately the relationship between the two lead protagonists works best when their friendship is fractured.
Nevertheless, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is entertaining and endearing throughout and boasts some of the best comedic dialogue of the year so far. This dialogue is excellently delivered, particularly by Julian Dennison who is constantly likeable as Ricky Baker. It’s a great film which is more than worth seeing should you get the chance; it’s just a shame that it can’t maintain its quality for the entirety of its runtime.