‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople‘ (pronounced like the wilder of “wilderbeast”) is an absurd comedy drama from Taika Waititi, who previously directed the equally offbeat ‘What We Do In The Shadows‘, along with ‘Eagle vs Shark‘ and a handful of ‘Flight of the Conchords‘ episodes on the small screen. Here, we follow juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) who is stranded in the New Zealand wilderness with his foster father Hec (Sam Neill), who both become subject of a manhunt.
To say that the narrative is contrived is plainly polite. The whole thing is underpinned in your faith in the farcical nature of the story. Often it feels like different characters are drawn in for little reason, and there aren’t many elements of the title that will leave you desperate for any kind of conclusion. It tends to feel a little made-up-as-we-go-along.
That said, there are laughs. Whilst the characters are not richly drawn, we understand their clashing personalities. Put one character from the city in a rural environment and there are some obvious issues and points of contention from which humour is derived. This is pushed to slapstick levels, especially the ignorance of the police in pursuit.
We get some great set pieces. There’s a bizarre funeral speech from the church minister – played by the director himself. Plus, we see a deranged conspiracy theorist bought to life by the fantastic Rhys Darby. He is on form, but this comes a little too late in the film to bare relevance. What follows is an over-long end sequence containing an obligatory reference to ‘Lord of the Rings’, among other collected images that unfortunately fall short of expectation.
There are attempts at placing narrative devices in the film that can be called upon but this feels unnatural and somewhat obvious. ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople‘ is based on the Barry Crump novel ‘Wild Pork and Watercress‘. The loose adaption to screen has it’s flaws. Most obvious is the splitting of each chapter with title cards at the start of each. This ultimately results in a film that is too long, and afraid to shorten an old narrative. The updated references to modern culture are interesting, yet they seem to be thrown together without explanation.
The camera overlooks the vast NZ forest before panning through the trees to track our protagonists. Some well-considered positioning often places the character in the centre of the frame. All of the action sequences appear to be in order, with a good mix of sound and fast paced editing. It’s a legit parody of a chase scene from an action film.
Overall, it is a style over substance experience, but won’t disappoint if you are looking for a laugh out loud comedy. It’s just a shame that the narrative isn’t as cohesive as it could be, and that there’s not much space left for characterisation. The punchlines in the dialogue are well written and executed, but the funniest joke in the film (which references ‘The Terminator‘) is already present in the trailer.
[rating=3] | Zach Roddis
Drama, Comedy, World Cinema | New Zealand, 2016 |12A | Vertigo Releasing | 16th September 2016 (UK)| Dir.Taika Waititi | Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House