Sundance 2016: Taika Waititi's 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople' is Pure Fun
by Alex Billington
January 23, 2016
Taika Waititi is back and better than ever! No seriously, this film is Taika's best yet, and I've been following him ever since I saw Eagle vs Shark premiered at Sundance 10 years ago. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the latest feature from Kiwi director Taika Waititi, who writes and directs and also has a small role in the film. Set mostly in the New Zealand "bush", the mostly uninhabited forested wilderness taking up some of the island, the story is about a troublemaker foster care kid named Ricky Baker who finds his true family when he's taken from the city to the countryside. I laughed my ass off, but the film actually has an immense amount of heart, too. By the end I was a fan of Ricky Baker and his "screw this" attitude and wanted more.
At first it seems like Ricky (played by newcomer Julian Dennison) won't fit in, as he was raised in the city and does whatever he wants. However, he soon finds that he does have a home and this opening is where the emotions start to kick in. However, when tragedy suddenly strikes, grumpy Uncle Heck (played by New Zealand native Sam Neill) and Ricky go on the run in the bush, becoming a national sensation when the police enact a massive manhunt to find the two. The film has chapter listings, but it flows smoothly, turning into a fun survival adventure and buddy comedy. As always with Taika's films, they have a very grounded, welcoming feel to them, and that's the case again. He works his magic and delivers an unforgettable comedy.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of those films that leaves you so happy by the end, you just want to go back and watch it again right away. Explaining what it's about in text sounds kind of boring (especially with obvious comparisons to The Revenant looming out there), however it is anything but. The film has earned comparisons to Moonrise Kingdom meets First Blood, and that's one way of describing it, but really the humor is completely unique to Taika Waititi. His films can't be compared, there's just something to them. I love them. Even the crazy child services woman who is after them is a hilarious character that is unlike anything ever found in any film before. It's hard to dislike any character in his films, they're all so lovable.
In a world with so many cynical, depressing, heartbreaking stories being told, it's so great to see something that reminds us there is hope in this world. There is hope for those who think that no one will ever love them because they don't fit in. There is so much beauty out there, even if we don't always recognize it. Hunt for the Wilderpeople shows us this, in big ways and in small, subtle ways. I'm just so glad that Taika made another film that makes me feel good, that made me laugh my ass off, and made my smile out of happiness. And I very much hope many more people will discover this film and have as much fun watching as I did.
Alex's Sundance 2016 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing