Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an offbeat and charming film with a strong emotional core. The success of the film is another indication that writer/director Taika Waititi has become a proficient filmmaker.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople features a fantastic return to the big screen by Sam Neill and a very impressive turn by child actor Julian Dennison. The two characters begin the film as opposites, not getting along. But akin to a twisted buddy cop movie, the two gain respect for each other while overcoming challenges. While the key relationship may seem clichéd, the characters and the writing feature an inventiveness that is refreshing. Waititi’s quirky straight-faced humor won’t work for everyone, but his craft and attention to detail should still be appreciated. Waititi’s last film What We Do in the Shadows was criminally underrated on this site by Zac. What We Do in the Shadows also features Waititi’s unique brand of offbeat comedy, however, it is more of a pure comedy without the heart of Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Another success of this film is the ensemble cast. Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, and Oscar Kightley are all great in their roles, striking the perfect levels of levity and sincerity. Frequent collaborator Rhys Darby was also present (get it?). Darby’s Psycho Sam character contributes by injecting some pure crazy to the film. One misstep of Waititi’s writing seems to be the trio of hunters in pursuit the protagonists. While the first confrontation was a humorous and effective scene, all the follow-up scenes of the trio added nothing to the film. Rachel House aptly filled the role as the film’s antagonist. Any additional “terminators” are superfluous.
Beyond What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi is probably best known as a writer/director for Flight of the Conchords, in fact, maybe he should get the credit for casting that mutha’ ucka Aziz Ansari. However, Hunt for the Wilderpeople most resembles Waititi’s first feature film: Eagle vs Shark. Both comedies depict a physical and emotional journey based around a central relationship. While I enjoyed Eagle vs Shark, Hunt for the Wilderpeople shows just how much Waititi has improved his craft in the past decade. Just when I thought I understood the trajectory of his filmmaking, I learned that Waititi is directing the next Thor movie (Thor: Ragnarok). I’m sure he will do fine, but not even Waititi is capable of improving Thor’s jokes on the virtues of coffee. Post Thor, I am looking forward to Waititi returning as a writer/director of hilarious and innovative characters. While it doesn’t matter if Waititi returns to independent films or hooks up with a studio, I just hope that his vision and creativity are utilized on any future projects.