Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople ★★★★½

It's basically yet another 'old grump/unruly kid teach each other about the world and find themselves in their friendship' film, but it has three strengths no other film in the genre has: Taika Waititi, Sam Neil, and Julian Dennison.

The honesty, emotional undercurrent, thematic resonance, and outstanding wit Waititi imbues the film with are so subtly interwoven and authentically realized. Then Neil and Dennison take it that crucial step further in their brilliant characterizations, chemistry with one another, and comic timing.

The way the film from the first scene leans into it's ideas about labels, thrown away people, and finding family is fantastic as we learn about Ricky Baker. He is immediately labeled and characterized by the adults around him before we even meet him. Once we do, we realize how the cycles of his life have trapped him. We similarly learn about Hec the same way, after his gruff presentations when we get to see what's underneath and what he's been through.

The film is never overwrought in bringing it's ideas together and instead just treats these people as if they are real, albeit much funnier and quick-witted in their insults and threats.

The film then finds it's drama in the reality of Ricky and Hec's situation, and the comedy in the cuts, edits, musical cues, and in the absurdity of the 'serious adult world' pursuing them. (The hilarious satirical touch in the way the adults discuss and pursue Ricky brought to mind the similarly funny satire of the first act of Willy Wonka)

The only place this movie really doesn't work is in the third act with a wildly over the top action sequence featuring a surprising amount of CGI and later with the introduction of Rhys Darby's character. This in particular is a shame considering how strong and subtle a supporting comic talent Darby normally is. Here he plays about 40% too loud and goofy for this film and really shakes the settled heightened comic reality of the film.

All that said, I really can't stress how great this film is, for every chuckle and outright laugh there's a moment of equal crushing humanity and realism to this boy's struggle to grow up and defy the institutions of his upbringing.

This puts Taika at 3/4 in my book, with Hunt for the Wilderpeople acting as an effective companion piece to his equally powerful earlier film Boy, and What We Do in the Shadows possibly being the most accomplished comic work I have ever seen.

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