Movie #157 2020: Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)

Taika Waititi is quickly becoming one of the world’s best current directors, and that’s a fact.

Before the phenomenal Hollywood success of his blockbusters Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit came his lesser known – and very Kiwi – movies, What We Do In the Shadows and this, Hunt For The Wilderpeople. (Before you start whining, I haven’t seen Boy yet, so I couldn’t possibly comment on that).

Hunt for the Wilderpeople gives us the charming tale of young Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) who is going through the foster system in Waititi’s native New Zealand. We open the film with him being placed with a loving woman (Rima Te Wiata) and her indiscernible husband, played by Sam Neill. One thing leads to another, and before long Ricky and his new foster Dad are on the run in the New Zealand bush. I personally didn’t know the story of this at all before I watched it, but it was an absolute treat, and I suggest you go into it blind too. You can just tell it was a book adaptation, even without its sequences being split into ‘chapters’.

For me, Wilderpeople didn’t quite pack the punch that Jojo Rabbit did, but it comes damn close. Amongst its more heart-wrenching scenes come moments of warmth and charm, plus a good smattering of comedy that is interlaced and woven throughout the entire movie. This is one of those films that ends up being both poignant and hilarious – I laughed out loud several times, but felt more complete as a human being at the same time as the wholesome tale came to an end.

Waititi does something absolutely masterful on top of his storytelling; he achieves such a high standard of cinematography that took my breath away with every shot… and only on a $2.5 million budget?! It’s absolutely insane what he achieved here, and some of the best visuals I’ve seen this year. The sweeping shots of lush New Zealand landscapes were particularly memorable, and the way sunlight is used is just simply glorious.

Julian Dennison in the lead role is so charismatic, it’s hard to believe he was only 14 when this movie came out. He has that star quality that reassures me he’ll be a hit for years to come, and Hollywood has clearly taken note already: Dennison starred more recently in Deadpool 2. Sam Neill is brilliant as usual, and Rachel House makes a hilarious appearance as a sort of police officer/foster care administrator hybrid. One of my favourite jokes in this comes with House’s analogy that Ricky is, in fact, Sarah Connor (”before she could do chin-ups”), and she is The Terminator. Seriously, give it a watch because it had me howling.

On top of all these amazing facets to the film, the entire soundtrack is absolutely top notch. Not only is my favourite song of all time (Nina Simone‘s Sinnerman) included, but there are songs that were crafted specifically for the film, making each song meaningful and perfect for the scene in which it appears.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is absolutely the best movie I’ve seen this month so far (for context, that’s the best out of 17 feature films), and I really wish it got the attention it deserved. Make sure you catch it on Amazon Prime Video before you have to pay extra for it!

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK. There is currently no specific date for when it will be removed from the service, but I’d assume it will be the end of May, so get in there quick! (If you miss it, you can still rent it for £1.99 on Amazon, and I can tell you it is worth so much more than that).

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