Raised on hip-hop and foster care, defiant city kid Ricky (Julian Dennison) gets a fresh start in the New Zealand countryside. He quickly finds himself at home with his new foster family: the loving Aunt Bella, the grumpy Uncle Hec (Sam Neill), and dog Tupac. When a tragedy strikes that threatens to ship Ricky to another home, both he and Hec go on the run in the bush. As a national manhunt ensues, the newly branded outlaws must face their options: go out in a blaze of glory or overcome their differences and survive as a family.
In an ocean of superhero over-saturation and explosions galore, Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople comes as a refreshing, albeit all-too-familiar story about how a boy and his quirky uncle beat all odds to finally bond like they’ve supposed to long ago. Think Pixar’s Up, with Sam Neill as a grumpy old man and Julian Dennison playing a kid always hungry for more knowledge and adventure – meets Big Daddy halfway in a feature for both teens and adults to enjoy. Hunt for the Wilderpeople just brims with honesty and soul.
Director Waititi already showcased his talents with his previous feature named What We Do in the Shadows, where he employed a mundane approach to a narrative subject as old as time – vampires. This time, his talents took a turn toward and away from the supernatural, in the form of a family comedy drama about a boy and his uncle on a run. Interesting to note is, as both films very much differ in theme and motifs, their underlying message still manages to remain the same. And it reads ‘honesty prevails at the end, no matter how hard the journey has been and what perils were overcome’. Always nice.
The story is a straightforward hero’s journey from point A to B, with few twists and turns along the way: but even then it surprises how it still manages to stay mostly human. And typical like all journeys the hero embarks on, Hunt for the Wilderpeople loves its antagonists which are somewhat subverted in their appearance as the ‘ones who’re supposed to save the day’. Instead, their main goal is to break the unlikely ongoing bond between an illiterate vagrant and a rebellious young man, which they deem as unacceptable by any and all means on their disposal. Whether they succeed or not, is left to be seen.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an ambassador for New Zealand’s vast untouched landscape which brings joy even to the cruelest of hearts. The soundtrack is carefully picked and gives away that ethnic feel of nostalgia and yearning for a life in the countryside free of technology and modern distractions. Quickly it becomes clear that our heroes’ journey leads the unlikely rag-tag duo to battle the most dangerous predator of all: nature.
Also, thanks to Sam Neill, his newcomer co-star Julian Dennison is able to show a full spectrum of emotions that make the whole ordeal even more plausible than (I guess) director Taika Waititi has envisioned his project in the first place.
To conclude, and one can say that Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a must see for everyone who’s an uncle or plans to become one in the foreseeable future.