Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi’s follow–up to his wonderfully funny vampires–in–Wellington mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows is a return to the character comedy and moving melancholy of his Boy and Eagle Vs. Shark, and offers the priceless odd–couple onscreen pairing of almost–complete– unknown Julian Dennison and old pro Sam Neill, who’s never been hairier or grungier.

Drawn from Barry Crump’s novel, this has young troublemaker Ricky Baker (Dennison) sent to a foster home in the boondocks and introduced to his new Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata in a similar role to her turn in the underrated Kiwi comedy Housebound) and her grumpy husband Hector (Neill). Baker fancies himself a gangsta and keeps trying to run away but Bella is always forgiving, and just when he finally comes around to her sweet good humour, she goes and does the unthinkable. After the funeral (and a charming cameo by Waititi as a priest), Hector rejects the kid and Ricky tries to escape again,  although a series of misunderstandings lead to nasty child services, the media and others thinking that Hector has kidnapped Ricky and is up to something terrible with him in the wilderness. Months pass, as Ricky, Hector and a dog called Tupac keep evading (however improbably) the police, the army and more, and soon they’re folk heroes, as Waititi takes what could have been unlikely and uneasy material and turns it into a gloriously amusing and touching human drama. Middle Earth, sorry, New Zealand has never looked more breath–taking (and fearsome) and the performances are all tremendous here, from Te Wiata and Waititi’s pal Rhys Darby (as Psycho Sam) to Neill and Dennison, who hold it all together as they get progressively dirtier. And have you heard that Waititi’s next trick will be directing the latest Thor epic? That’ll be choice! Rated M. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is in cinemas from May 25.

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