Scott Bailey’s review published on Letterboxd:
By the time I saw Hunt For The Wilderpeople at the end of the film festival, I was feeling tired having attended 9 films in just 3 days and especially given that the other films I saw was just absorbing and draining to watch. I feared I just wouldn't have the energy to really enjoy this highly praised comedy by Taika Waititi, particularly as I struggled somewhat with his previous film What We Do In The Shadows (although that film has slightly grown on me since I logged it).
Despite the fact I was completely spent by the time I saw it, I have to say I absolutely ended up loving this film and it was a great way to end the festival. I think what I enjoy with Taika Waititi is that his style of humour is often really silly. It also has an innocence to it, which I think works so well when the lead actor is a teenager playing the role of a juvenile delinquent. I found this film to be a relentlessly funny film, and for a guy like me that is not an easy task.
As important as it is to be laughing my ass off at almost everything in the film though, the thing I love the most about the film is that it has so much heart. The characters are beautifully written and I just found myself attached to both of the leading characters. No matter how absurd some of the situations there is still some weight to the story and the characters so it has that balance for me.
The plot is about a juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), who is abandoned by his mother and is taken to a foster home by the child welfare services. He's reluctant, but quickly forms a bond with his foster aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata). His relationship with his foster uncle Hec (Sam Neill) however is a lot more strained to say the least. A series of events occur that forces them both to have to survive and work together in the wilderness for months on end.
I think what worked the best for me was the genuine chemistry between lead actors. Sam Neill, whom you should be familiar with in the classic Jurassic Park is virtually unrecognisable in this film as the bearded Uncle Hec, who is a lot more reluctant to form a bond with the troubled youngster, but the scenes they have together are charming and heartfelt, while also being hilarious because of the way the two work off of each other and the fact that they are just polar opposites. Julian Dennison is the star of the film for me though. The first time you see him, he's made out to be this big trouble maker with a bad reputation, but his performance has that childish innocence about it that I just thought really worked for the story. I couldn't help but really like him as a character, and something about his performance just grabbed me instantly.
Theres also a lot of great side performances as well. Rachel House is completely over the top as the villain Paula, the child welfare officer, yet it is also very entertaining to watch. Oscar Knightley is also very funny as Andy, the police officer who is often tagging along with her and in the scenes they have together, they have a strong personality clash which makes them have some hilarious bickering scenes. Taika Waititi has a hilarious cameo as a priest and Rhys Darby is unforgettable as Psycho Sam.... or was it 'Bush Man'?
It is also a beautifully shot film set in New Zealand. The wilderness setting of fte film is utilised so well here as it always feel like a presence in the movie and theres also some beautiful wide takes in this movie as well.
I have but a few gripes with this movie. First off, there are inevitable moments in the film where some of the jokes just won't land for me. For example, I thought the selfie joke was just way over cooked in this film. To be fair though in a film where jokes are relentless like this this is bound to happen, so that's only a small nit-pick. A major one for me though was the ending didn't really work for me, it's not so bad it ruins the movie or anything like that, but it moves in a direction where the characters just doesn't feel like themselves and I found that a bit distracting.
Overall though, I mostly adored this movie and it is one of the very best straight up comedies I've seen in a very long time time, it is simply majestical :)