Review – Hunt For The Wilderpeople

After revealing what a house full of vampires get up to in their spare time, Taika Waititi follows another set of mismatched misfits to equally hilarious effect in this perfectly judged boy’s own adventure.

The "Magical" Hunt For The Wilderpeople

The “Magical” Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Whilst Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings no doubt remains the New Zealand Tourist Board’s favourite cinematic advert, Hunt For The Wilderpeople’s loving immersion in the land of the long white cloud’s unspoilt greenery is equally majestic.

This forms the stunning backdrop to an adventure that’s as fantastically offbeat as it is heart-warming; one which gives us 2016’s best buddy pairing in the form of Sam Neill’s prickly hunter Hector and Ricky, the hip hop-loving wannabe gangster played to charming effect by newcomer Julian Dennison.

Hec (Sam Neill), Ricky (Julian Dennison) and the beautiful NZ scenery in Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Hec (Sam Neill), Ricky (Julian Dennison) and the beautiful NZ scenery in Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Ricky is a rebellious foster kid relocated from the city by child welfare services (led by Rachel House’s frightening looking Paula – “no child left behind”) to the country and into the arms of the loving Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and the less interested Hec (Neill).

When a series of unfortunate events sees Ricky and Hec (with dog in tow) go on the run, their begrudging tolerance of each other slowly transforms into something approaching a father and son relationship as they continue to evade the authorities while camped out in the great outdoors.

No child left alone: Andy the police officer (Oscar Kightley) and 'Child Services' (Rachel House) in Hunt For The Wilderpeople

No child left alone: Andy the police officer (Oscar Kightley) and ‘Child Services’ (Rachel House) in Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Anyone with even a passing appreciation of 80s adventure flicks such as The Goonies will soon attune themselves to Hunt For The Wilderpeople‘s wavelength and the warm glow of nostalgia that comes with it. The references don’t stop there; Waititi has acknowledged the debt he owes to the likes of Paper Moon and Pixar’s Up, as well as numerous less well-known Australian movies of the 1980s.

The boy’s own wistfulness of the criminally underseen Son Of Rambow and Kings Of Summer have mined similar territory in recent years, but there’s an extra edge that plays out in the back and forth between Ricky and Hec.

Waititi has developed considerably as a director and the choices he makes with the camera are both confident and eye-catching in a fashion not dissimilar to Wes Anderson and Edgar Wright. Married to Lachlan Milne’s cinematography, the film looks beautiful.

Taika Waititi as a surreal minister in Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi as a surreal minister in Hunt For The Wilderpeople

The surrealism present in so much of Australasian cinema can be found coursing through the veins of the movie, whether it be the hilariously odd supporting cast (including Waititi as a curious looking minister and Rhys Darby as Psycho Sam, a conspiracy-spouting hermit who disguises himself as a bush) or numerous visual choices, including a sweet moment when Ricky meets and instantly falls for Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne’s Kahu and is reminded of an old Cadbury’s Flake advert when she gets on her horse.

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) on a boy's own adventure in Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) on a boy’s own adventure in Hunt For The Wilderpeople

The shamelessly over-the-top finale (reminiscent of Thelma And Louise) may be a little much, but there are plenty of asides that only a Kiwi or Australian would fully appreciate, such as the references to food such as scroggin (a type of trail mix) and burger rings, as well as some of NZ’s more colourful TV personalities.

As Waititi moves up to the big leagues of Marvel for his next venture, one can only hope the magic of Hunt For The Wilderpeople will continue to rub off on this talented cinematic voice.


  1. le0pard13 · October 10, 2016

    This seems to be gathering momentum. Guess I’ll give this a go. Thanks, Mark.

    • Three Rows Back · October 21, 2016

      Please do mate; think you’ll really enjoy it. One of the best of the year for me.

  2. The Double Take · October 10, 2016

    I was lucky enough to have seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople back in May in a small independent cinema in New Zealand. A wonderful film that has so much charm and humour to it that it is impossible not to like. It really shows off New Zealand in a more natural light than Lord of the Rings at times, the longer I have lived here the more I realise there are plenty of Hec characters out here! So far my favourite movie of 2016 and I hope to see some more gems like this from Taika Waititi

    • Three Rows Back · October 21, 2016

      Ah, that’s awesoem feedback mate. I lived in NZ for six months a few years ago and fell in love with the country. This brought back some great memories of what the land of the long white cloud has to offer.

  3. Tom · October 11, 2016

    Oh man I just gotta see this! This sounds like it has a splash of Moonrise Kingdom in it, though maybe substitute the romantic element with a parental/paternal relationship. Also like the fact Sam Neill is back on the scene. Feels like it’s been forever since I’ve seen him in something. Good work as per usual buddy

    • Three Rows Back · October 21, 2016

      Yes, Moonrise Kngdom is the film I couldn’t think of! I was trying to remember what is reminded me of! Sorry I’ve not been leaving much feedback on your site of late mate; have been finding it very difficult to do anything blog-related. It’s been the story of the past 6-9 months to be honest, but I don’t want to give up on the blog as I’d miss you guys!

      • Tom · October 22, 2016

        I feel you man, I’ve slacked off a bit myself going around to others’ sites; i’m starting to find there’s an inevitable cycle of feeling inspired and then feeling really unmotivated. Sometimes those cycles intensify depending on how long you’re doing something! Never apologize though, Mr Mark — you’ve always been a loyal supporter of the Shortbread.

        I’d fucking love to get my hands on this movie. I saw it was playing at the local indie theater where I used to live in TN but now i’m in New Jersey and there’s no such theater that plays such things so I missed out and was quite ticked off

  4. Mark Walker · October 11, 2016

    Nice one mate. Im hoping to catch this very soon. What We in the Shadows was hands-down the funniest film I seen last year: Waititi looks like a true talent indeed.

    • Three Rows Back · October 21, 2016

      Hey Mark; nice to hear from you. What We Do In The Shadows kind of came out of nowhere and made a name for Waititi. I think this film is even better; you can see how he’s grown as a director.

  5. ruth · October 14, 2016

    Hi Mark! I can’t wait to see this soon now that it’s available to rent. I’m a huuuuge fan of What We in the Shadows, I even got the Bluray!

    • Three Rows Back · October 21, 2016

      Hi Ruth! Hope you’re enjoying the festival. Am very envious! Sorry I’ve not been on your site very much of late; time has been in very short supply I’m afraid. I promise to try and not be a stranger šŸ™‚

  6. Victor De Leon · October 23, 2016

    cant wait to see this! thanks for the review!


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