The thing I love about the movies is that even when you see in excess of 150 new releases a year, as I do, there are still special films that have the capacity to surprise you. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is that kind of picture. I’d heard the positive buzz, I’d seen the trailer and had the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend with good taste (thanks, Rebs!), but in retrospect, I knew nothing. In perhaps 15 minutes, Hunt for the Wilderpeople proved to have more depth than I could have imagined.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the story of Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a rebellious youth who finds happiness in a foster home on the edge of the New Zealand bush. When that home is threatened, Ricky and his foster uncle, Hec (Sam Neill), take to the bush, triggering a national manhunt. The picture is based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, but the sole screenwriting credit goes to director Taika Waititi, who has already made an impression on cult film fans with 2015’s What We Do In The Shadows.
With Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Waititi delivers on the immense promise of What We Do In The Shadows, but surpasses that effort with a film that is more fully realized and narratively rich. Ricky’s story is wonderfully funny, subtly sweet and surprisingly emotive. It’s the kind of indie picture that turns casual fans into rabid arthouse regulars. Why? It’s simple really, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a rare movie, the kind that’s utterly unique and purely enjoyable from the first frame to the last. It’s as quirky as Juno, as emotive as Eternal Sunshine and as captivating as anything you’ve ever seen.
I always think of “pure cinema” as the kind of praise that’s vague enough to mean almost nothing to most people, but I’m extraordinarily tempted to employ it here. Watching a movie about a young boy finding himself and the meaning of family in the woods in the middle of a summer packed with sequels and explosions is the most incredible palette cleanser, and it’s an experience that’s vanishingly rare. In fact, in modern Hollywood, simple storytelling is a risk. And I can’t tell you how happy I am Waititi took that risk.
See this movie. If it strikes you like it did me, you’ll want to tell everyone you know to see it too. And you might start saying “We didn’t choose the gangsta life, the gangsta life chose us,” anytime you complete an utterly pedestrian-to-semi-impressive task.
Image courtesy of Pika Films, The Orchard