Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
IMDb rating: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 96%
Before Taika Waititi landed one of the world’s most enviable gigs directing Thor Ragnarok, he made – and occasionally appeared in – New Zealand indie flicks like What We Do in the Shadows, and Boy (both worth a watch if you’ve yet to see them). Hunt for the Wilderpeople was Waititi’s last film before bona fide stardom came calling, and it’s an utterly charming offering.
A mix of bildungsroman, comedy and action movie, HFTW’s biggest star is the instantly recognisable Sam Neill who plays Hec Faulkner, a quiet, grumpy and independent rural sort… but he has to play second fiddle to then-newcomer Julian Dennison’s 13-year-old rebellious orphan Ricky Baker.
One of the best performances comes from Rima Te Wiata, who plays Baker’s foster mom Bella, and the cheerful foil and wife to Neill’s petulant Hec. Her excruciatingly sincere birthday song from the movie’s trailer is impossible not to love (though, if you think you might like HFTWP, you’re best off not watching the trailer at all).
Rachel House’s turn as a well-intentioned but obsessive and misguided welfare services employee gives Dennison’s understated comedic timing some competition, but it’s the way the film ramps up and jumps genres as it nears its denouement that’s the real treat.
It’s also good, wholesome fun for the whole family… well, those over 13 years of age, officially, and a welcome reminder of the frankness, humour and ability to tell fantastic stories about seemingly real people with such even-handedness that makes Waititi such a contemporary treasure.