×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’

Taika Waititi's latest is a pleasing comedy-adventure that pays cheeky homage to some early New Zealand classics.

With:
Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Oscar Kightley, Cohen Holloway, Stan Walker, Mike Minogue, Rhys Darby, Troy Kingi, Taika Waititi, Hamish Parkinson, Stu Giles, Lloyd Scott.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4698684/

A young orphan and his very reluctant keeper “go bush” on the lam from authorities in “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” Based on a tale by the late, prolific New Zealand novelist Barry Crump, Taika Waititi’s latest is a pleasing comedy-adventure that pays cheeky homage to key early works from that nation’s first filmic renaissance — right down to casting the still-game Sam Neill, who was also a fugitive 40 years ago in Roger Donaldson’s “Sleeping Dogs.” Despite the humor, there’s a cornier, more formulaic core here than in the writer-helmer’s prior successes “Boy” and “What We Do in the Shadows” that may comparatively limit its offshore prospects. But international sales should be hale enough, and the pic is sure to be another home-turf hit.

Dropped off on a remote farm by a very caustic child-services worker named Paula (Rachel House) who assures his new minders he’s a “very bad egg,” Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a heavy-set lad of about 10 who’s defeated a series of foster families and group homes his whole life. This new arrangement is his last chance before he’s sent to juvenile lockup. His ebullient if tactless new Auntie Bella (Rima Te Wiata) simply ignores his sullen silences and initial attempts to run away; she’s got enough positivity for both of them. Indeed, Ricky does start to accept her love and her home as his own. As for taciturn Uncle Hec (Neill), well, the young man and the old one can probably coexist tolerably enough with Bella as a giant buffer between them.

Unfortunately, fate drastically changes this promising domestic situation, leaving Hec without a wife and Ricky once again without a mother figure. The boy is unwilling to go back into the public system — though  Hec is equally adamant he’s not in the market to raise a child alone, and in any case, the court has remanded Ricky back into custody. The latter responds by running off into the bush, where his survival skills prove nonexistent. He’s fast located by Hec, whose own ample wilderness savvy keeps them both fed and warm when an accident strands the adult from hiking out for several weeks.

Once they do finally emerge at civilization’s first outpost, however, they discover that over-eager Paula and confusing evidence left behind (Ricky had torched the barn and left a fake “suicide” note) have convinced all that grieving new widower Hec has probably “gone crazy” and hauled the boy into the bush against his will. After an encounter with some suspicious hunters at a camping hut goes badly, it is now imagined that Hec is a “pervert” busy “molestering” his young captive. Later, however, their continued evasion of bounty hunters, police, army, et al. begins (a la “Sleeping Dogs”) to make the fugitives into folk heroes.

Remainder of the pic is a backwoods manhunt that’s both a salute to and gentle parody of several late 1970s-early ’80s Kiwi classics, with specific references not just to “Dogs” but also “Goodbye Pork Pie,” “Smash Palace” and more. Some support turns (in addition to a decent Laurel and Hardy act by Te Wiata and Oscar Kightley as a none-too-bright cop) tip scales a bit much toward farce, with Rhys Darby over-the-top as hermit “Psycho Sam.” But for the most part, pic’s sheer good-naturedness pulls off a not particularly inspired crusty-old-coot-thawed-by-young-scamp concept, maintaining an agreeable tonal balance despite occasional wobbles between spoof, sentimentality and silliness.

In his third local feature, following “Shopping” and “Paper Planes,” Dennison (whom Waititi met on a commercial shoot three years ago) proves a most affable protagonist, one whose naivete and willfulness largely drive the improbable narrative. But pic’s stealth weapon is Neill, whose typical canny underplaying complements everyone else’s broader notes while lending both the comic and dramatic elements extra ballast.

Shot on various North Island locations, “Wilderpeople” makes full use of the spectacular scenery at hand. Lachlan Milne’s widescreen lensing also heightens the retro feel by indulging in frequent gratuitous zooms, while the original score amusingly incorporates some cheesy ’80s sounds. Other packaging elements are first-rate.

Sundance Film Review: 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 22, 2016. Running time: 101 MIN.

Production: (New Zealand) A Defender Films, Piki Films, Curious presentation, in association with the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ On Air. (World sales: Protagonist Pictures, London.) Produced by Carthew Neal, Leanne Saunders, Taika Waititi, Matt Noonan. Executive producers, James Wallace, Charlie McClellan.

Crew: Directed by Taika Waititi. Screenplay, Waititi, based on the book "Wild Pork and Watercress" by Barry Crump. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Lachlan Milne; editors, Luke Haigh, Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya; music, Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, Conrad Wedde; music supervisor, Natalie Wilson; production designer, Neville Stevenson; costume designer, Kristin Seth; art director, Jon Lithgow; sound, Ande Schurr; sound designer/supervisor, Dick Read; re-recording mixers, Michael Hedges, Tim Chaproniere; stunt coordinators, Mark Harris, Rodney Cook; assistant director, Seumas Cooney; casting, Stuart Turner.

With: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Oscar Kightley, Cohen Holloway, Stan Walker, Mike Minogue, Rhys Darby, Troy Kingi, Taika Waititi, Hamish Parkinson, Stu Giles, Lloyd Scott.

More Film

  • Dimitri Vegas

    Dimitri Vegas Talks 'Rambo V: Last Blood' Role, Working With Sylvester Stallone

    Dimitri Thivaios, better known as dance music’s Dimitri Vegas, is taking his skills beyond the DJ booth, picking up a major film role in the forthcoming “Rambo V: Last Blood.” The Belgium-born Thivaios, who headlines massive EDM festivals like Tomorrowland with his brother Michael (they perform under the banner Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike), has [...]

  • Japan's Toei Animation Teams With Saudi's

    Japan's Toei Animation Teams With Saudi's Manga Productions on 'The Journey'

    In an industry-building effort for Saudi Arabia, new Saudi animation studio Manga Productions has teamed up with Japan’s Toei Animation on a $10 million to $15 million animation feature titled “The Journey,” an epic based on Saudi folklore to be directed by Shizuno Kobun, whose credits include “Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle.”  Manga [...]

  • 'Joan of Arc' Review: Bruno Dumont's

    Cannes Film Review: 'Joan of Arc'

    You have to hand it to Bruno Dumont, France’s dark prince of dour auteurism: He never makes the same film twice, even when he does, to all intents and purposes, make the same film twice. Two years ago, he offered his own singular contribution to cinema’s well-stocked canon of Joan of Arc dramas: As a [...]

  • Rosie Day, Harriet Sanson Harris, Natalia

    Rosie Day, Harriet Sanson Harris, Natalia Tena Set For Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s Thriller ‘Baby’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES– Rosie Day (“Outlander”), Harriet Sanson Harris (“Phantom Thread”) and Natalia Tena (“Game of Thrones”) will star in Spaniard Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s psychological thriller “Baby,” Variety has learned exclusively. The project will be pitched on May 19 at Fantastic 7, a new Cannes initiative seeing seven of the world’s most prestigious fantastic festivals back and [...]

  • Polish Fest’s Industry Event Presents Upcoming

    New Horizons’ Polish Days Goes to Cannes With Five Films in Progress

    CANNES  —  Buoyed by a wave of international successes, including Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2019 foreign-language Oscar nominee “Cold War,” Polish cinema will get a fitting showcase Sunday morning with the presentation of five new projects at New Horizons’ Polish Days Goes to Cannes. Organized in conjunction with the Polish Film Institute, Polish Days is the most important [...]

  • Cannes, Annecy Animation Day Hosts ‘Bob

    Coala to Pitch ‘Bob Spit: We Do Not Like People’ at Cannes, Annecy Animation Day

    São Paulo-based Coala Filmes impressed in the series competition at last year’s Annecy Intl. Film Festival with an episode of their popular stop-motion series “Angeli the Killer,” based on the famous comics of the Brazilian comic-book writer of the same name. This year, the film’s director Cesar Cabral and producer Ivan Melo are participating in [...]

  • Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich’s $100 Million

    Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich’s $100 Million Film Fund Launches

    CANNES  —  Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s $100 million private film fund Kinoprime is ready for business, the fund’s CEO, Anton Malyshev, said in Cannes this week. Financed to the tune of $100 million over the next three years, the fund can provide up to 50% of a film’s production budget, with a $2 million cap [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content