Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata
Director: Taika Watiti
Running Time: 101 mins
Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a New Zealand film about a boy and his adopted ‘uncle’ who find themselves on the run from a national manhunt after fleeing into the bush for months.
If you’re looking for the sort of deadpan, dark and extremely quirky humour that Hollywood doesn’t put out much these days, then Taika Watiti’s the man to go for. Following his hilarious mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is yet another great film with a brilliant sense of humour, as well as a story that’s on the strange yet often oddly moving side.
Let’s talk about the comedy here first off. On the whole, it’s really good, starting off with a hilarious first scene, and then settling into a confident delivery of some very clever and dark humour. The film’s not a riotous, laugh-out-loud experience, but it’s more about smirking at the endlessly black comedy that Taika Watiti shows off here, and that’s the main reason the film feels so unique and quirky throughout.
For some people, the promise of quirkiness might be a turn-off, and that’s often justified when a film doesn’t back up its deliberately awkward atmosphere with good storytelling, acting and style. However, whilst it’s never quite as auteurist as the films we see from the likes of Wes Anderson, Watiti does an excellent job at making that quirky vibe pay off well throughout, and make for both an entertaining and engaging watch.
The deadpan delivery of almost every joke and plot point in the first act is an excellent starting point, providing a hilarious opening to the movie as well as quickly giving us an interesting look into the past of the three main characters present then. By far the film’s strongest period, the opening act here has everything going for it, from a Watiti’s visually bleak directing to the contrast between various overzealous and straight-talking characters on screen.
Following the first act, the film settles down more into its main story, following the man and the boy as they navigate the wilderness. Whilst there’s nothing from here on that’s quite as clever, intriguing or hilarious as the opening act, what the film does do very well is provide an unexpectedly touching look at the relationship between the two characters.
Of course, the back-and-forth between the two is brilliant, and does occasionally make for some great laughs, whilst the comically dark tone of the overall story really plays into the fun of it all. However, what I found most engaging about the film’s second and third acts was the way in which the relationship between the two main characters grows, playing out in a strongly unorthodox manner, but thereby making for a much more interesting and occasionally even emotionally impacting development.
The other reason that their relationship is so engaging is the two lead performances. Sam Neill’s totally deadpan delivery throughout the film is brilliant, whilst Julian Dennison has some fantastic chemistry with him, making both the odd father-son relationship enjoyable to watch, as well as provide some unexpected emotional depth.
Overall, I enjoyed Hunt For The Wilderpeople a lot. I don’t think it’s a comedy classic, and its story isn’t always as riveting as it starts off. However, it’s a confidently-directed and acted film with an offbeat dark comedic vibe that works very well for the majority of the time, and with a good few laughs along the way, it’s a pretty entertaining watch, which is why I’m giving it a 7.6.