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New Zealand 2016
Directed by
Taika Waititi
93 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4.5 stars

Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Synopsis: Troubled teenager, Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) has one last chance to stay out of juvenile detention -  his new foster family, kindly Bella Faulkner (Rima TeWiata) and her taciturn husband, Hector (Sam Neill). But when their circumstances change and Hector and Ricky disappear into the bush, obssessed child services officer, Paula Hall (Rachel House) and inept policeman, Officer Andy (Oscar Kightly) lead a massive manhunt.

There are plenty of times when I’ve sat in the cinema whilst everyone except me is laughing along with what’s up on the screen (depressing) and quite a few times when it’s just been me who’s doing the laughing (embarrassing) but I can’t remember the last time I sat in a full house and laughed along with all the rest of the punters for pretty much the duration of the film. Hunt For The Wilderpeople provides one of those rare times probably because it’s one of an increasingly scarce breed of comedy that doesn’t rely on gross-out humour or lame parody. It’s a very well written film (adapted from Barry Crump’s 1986 novel "Wild Pork and Watercress") that is directed with a light and astute hand to deliver us genuinely funny characters and a story that is expertly realised by a very fine cast. It also manages the thing that only really adept comedies can do; moments of real sadness and emotion that pull us out of all the silliness and give us something to think about for a moment or two before the funny stuff starts again.

I must admit I blow a bit hot and cold with Sam Neill but he’s at his underplayed comedic best here and the young actor Julian Dennison (who was so good as the best friend in last year’s Paper Planes matches him scene for scene. It’s the chemistry between these two that really drives the film but they’re not alone for first class performances. House and Kightly make for good comic antagonists and the film is peppered with great smaller roles including Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne as the girl Ricky meets in the middle-of-nowhere, Rhys Darby appears in an hilarious cameo as Psycho Sam and the director himself in a very funny turn as an addled minister.

The soundtrack by New Zealand musos Lukasz Pawel Buda, Samuel Flynn Scott and Conrad Wedde - an eclectic mix of angelic voices and techno-synth – well suits the eccentric nature of the film and the glorious wilderness in which the bulk of it takes places is beautifully photographed by Lachlan Milne.

Waititi’s star was already on the ascendency with his previous hits, Eagle Vs Shark (2007), Boy (2010)  and What We Do In The Shadows (2014) not to mention his association with the TV sensation, Flight of the Conchords. One can but hope, now that he’s been sucked into the vortex of the Marvel Universe as director of Thor: Ragnarok (due out in 2017 that his gift for quirky, funny and moving stories populated with well-drawn and engaging characters does not get subsumed under the superhero behemoth.

FYI. For those whose ears are not attuned to the vernacular of New Zealand slang, the distributors have kindly provided a glossary which explains everything from the film being set in the wop-wops to why Ricky Baker fancies himself as Skux. Check it out here




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