Ask your average person what they know about New Zealand and they will invariably mention the use of its landscapes for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy; the opening shot of Hunt for the Wilderpeople makes it clear that Peter Jackson and co. barely scratched the surface of the country’s natural beauty. Set deep within the untamed bushlands, Taika Waititi writes and directs the story of teen delinquent Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) as he is taken in by new foster parents. Unimpressed by the isolation of his new home and the coldness of ‘uncle’ Hector (Sam Neil), Ricky is slowly won over by the warmth of his foster mother, Bella (Rima Te Wiata). However, when circumstances force Hector and Ricky together, they are driven to flee from police, hunters and Child Welfare Services.
Apart from a brief cameo, Waititi remains behind the camera for Hunt for the Wilderpeople unlike in his cult vampire-comedy What We Do in the Shadows. The film he produces feels like an unlikely marriage between Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz; the gently whimsical tone of the former is met with comically overblown action and chase sequences which can at times feel out of place. Dennison is natural as the wannabe gangster, and he shares good chemistry with Neil, although the beats of their awkward ‘father-son’ relationship will feel very familiar to anyone who has seen Pixar’s Up. The starring turn of the film belongs to Rachel House, as the fantastically villainous Child Welfare officer Paula, who shares a funny partnership with slow-witted policeman Andy (Oscar Kightly).
Hunt for the Wilderpeople has lots of genuinely funny moments, and a few stand-out performances. A very enjoyable film which needs to be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate the breath-taking setting.