When protagonist Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) points out “it’s just like Lord of the Rings,” as he and his grumpy “uncle” Hec (Sam Neill) hide from the disproportionate amount of armed troops hunting them, he’s certainly not wrong. Director Taika Waititi has essentially inverted the formula that made What We Do in the Shadows so special, a combination of the fantastical with the mundane. Here, what would in most cases be a fairly unremarkable tale of adoption is transformed by a tone that wouldn’t out of place in something like Lord of the Rings, as reluctant father and adoptive son accidentally end up hunted by what seems like most of the policemen in New Zealand.
Waititi experiments a little more with the camera in this film; the strange soundtrack and cinematography help the film on its way to this peculiar fairytale tone, as do the occasional overtones of the Brothers Grimm and Roald Dahl through the antagonist, a Child Services employee inexplicably obsessed with catching Ricky.
Waititi’s off-kilter sense of humour fits wonderfully with the story, as Ricky and Hec find an appreciation for each other despite their differences, which become complements to each other rather than a point of tension. Made all the better by the fairly subdued performances of the two leads amid the total madness of the narrative (which results in something resembling a major action sequence from Lethal Weapon), Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a whipsmart, good-natured folklore tale, and wonderful cinematic comfort food.
An extremely funny, emotionally satisfying journey to witness (and occasionally surprisingly cruel to wild animals), Hunt for the Wilderpeople transforms a fairly unremarkable tale of adoption into a wild and wonderful fantasy, yet again proving that New Zealand may as well just be Middle Earth.
CAST: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Rachel House
DIRECTOR: Taika Waititi
WRITER: Taika Waititi
SYNOPSIS: A national manhunt is ordered for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush.