Outside of a few of the less traditional animated fare, it’s not too often that a family film suitable for all (most) ages is released that is extremely quirky, laugh-out-loud funny, and completely original. However, all of these things can be said about the latest film from future Marvel director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Eagle vs. Shark). Hunt for the Wilderpeople is heartfelt, hilarious, and truly “majestical”.
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a troubled boy in the New Zealand foster care system. Ricky is “a bad egg”:
His history of offenses and re-offenses is too long to list.
We’re talking graffitiing! Littering! Smashing stuff. Burning stuff. Breaking stuff. Stealing stuff. Throwing rocks. Running away. Spitting!
Enter Bella (Rima Te Wiata, Housebound), the willing foster mother who is ready for the challenge. Her less enthusiastic husband, Hec (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park), and she agree to become Ricky’s caregivers, with Bella telling Ricky to call them Auntie and Uncle (despite Hec’s protests). Through a series of events, Hec and Ricky find themselves in “the bush” running from a nationwide manhunt that is hot on their trail.
To say much more would rob anyone yet to see the film of the pure joy of this comedic gem, however it is fair to summarize the film by saying that Ricky’s quirky, fun behaviors and Hec’s “get off my lawn” type old man grumpiness operate together to create a the exploits of a wonderful odd couple. Hec’s journey to warm up to Ricky is not too unlike Dr. Alan Grant’s warming up to the children in Sam Neill’s career defining role in Jurassic Park, only replace the dinosaurs with an enraged child welfare worker, a group of guys who think Hec is a “molesterer”, and the entire police force and select military forces of New Zealand.
Rhys Darby plays a small role that is a true show stopper and the aforementioned welfare worker (Rachel House, a Taika Waititi mainstay) delivers some of the best lines of the film. Her bumbling police officer sidekick (Oscar Kightley, Samoan Wedding) provides some incredible laughs, as well. There aren’t a ton of big players in this film, but everyone plays their part with perfection.
The soundtrack is provided by a little known band called Moniker and is one of the best soundtracks of the year. Their cheeky, fun “Trifecta” is featured above in a video, with a version of the song being performed by Bella (with some vocal accompaniment from Ricky) early in the film. The rest of the songs range in tone, some with vocals and some without; all of them compliment the film’s scenes beautifully and feel integral to the final feel of the film.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople could go down as one of the best live action family films of the decade, when we look back in a few years. It is certain it will be on many top ten lists for films of 2016. Sam Neill gives one of the strongest performances of his already solid career and Julian Dennison is a star in the making. With this truly brilliant film, it’s no surprise that Taika Waititi is set to become a household name when Thor: Ragnarok drops for Marvel in November 2017. Until then, I implore you to check out this film and experience a delicious taste of the talent that attracted Marvel to his work… a taste more delicious than the “slug” Hec caught for their dinner on he and Ricky’s first fateful night in the bush.
Ricky: I’ll never stop running!
Paula: Yeah, and I’ll never stop chasing you – I’m relentless, I’m like the Terminator.
Ricky: I’m more like the Terminator than you!
Paula: I said it first, you’re more like Sarah Connor, and in the first movie too, before she could do chinups.