Hunt for the Wilderpeople Review

I’ve not ridden the wave of love Taika Waititi has received in modern times. Jojo Rabbit did little for me, and I’m still struggling to understand the near-universal praise he received for What We Do in the Shadows. Don’t get me wrong, they’re serviceable comedies, and I do wish him all the best. It’s rare these days that a man working solely in comedy can, in fact, survive for so long and achieve such acclaim. Still, I’d trooped on through his early work and that was a disaster, but my high hopes for Hunt for the Wilderpeople were founded on the hopes of an arguably innovative director that I’d simply not gelled with.  

This was his time to shine, and he does so with surprising elegance, something I truly hadn’t expected of Waititi’s work. Collaborating with Julian Dennison and Sam Neill, this trio of New Zealanders head out into the bush to evade child services after a disastrous series of events leads to a severe case of butting heads and misunderstandings. Those themes of animosity and tension burrow deep into the core of this film, and it’s all the better for it. Happenstance occurrences erode the icy nature Neill brings to the table, in an exceptional performance that should hopefully wash away all memory of his appearance in A Long Way Down. Dennison does just as well, and the two share some exceptional chemistry. 

That’s what keeps Hunt for the Wilderpeople on the move, literally and narratively. We don’t spend too long in one location, unless we’re counting the bush as one location, in which case, we spend all our time in one location. The events that transpire and trouble our leading characters have a rare blend of comedy and drama, light enough to laugh at, but still poignant enough to consider important. Versed in turmoil, but looking on the lighter side of such events with cutaways to some supporting characters on the hunt, always one step behind. It sounds rather predictable, but Waititi’s direction comes to life here. 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the one Waititi film I’ve seen so far where I do have to hold my hands up and admit he has his charms. I’d be hard-pressed to find any major faults with this one, other than it fails to leave a lasting impression beyond good laughter and easy-going stylistic choices. I couldn’t pick you out a specific scene that highlights why this film works so well, it all blends together. That may sound like a detriment to the narrative, but at least the blend is one that has essential comedic prose and timing to it.  

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