Review: “Hunt For The Wilderpeople” – Trivial Beauty

Written by Matt Butler August 11, 2016

hunt for the wilderpeople

On paper, Hunt For The Wilderpeople reads like a melodrama: After the sudden death of his loving aunt, a rebellious juvie runs away from his backwoods foster home to live a life between the trees, but when his cantankerous uncle comes upon him, they find themselves in a mess of misunderstandings as thick as the forest. The two are forced to forge their efforts if they are to survive the forest and evade the police.

Here’s the beauty of comedy: It feeds off melodrama. It takes the once serious and makes it trivial, it’s how we ‘laugh away the pain’. Hunt For The Wilderpeople may tell a pained story of broken families, but it’s told with the most graceful irreverence. Almost every moment that prompts drama is immediately undercut by something silly. The death of Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) for one, is followed by a cut to her funeral, with a turn-out of only four people (including Ricky (Julian Dennison) and Uncle Hec (Sam Neill), along with an incompetent minister (played by director Taika Waititi). Halfway through the film, Ricky begins to whine about dying, as if he were being told to take out the trash, rather than being concerned with the growing likelihood of death. But then there’s the rare moments that hold that drama closely, like when Tupac, suffering from the fierce bite of a warthog, is put out of his misery by Hec’s merciful bullet. It’s really the same comic trick pulled by James Gunn in Guardians of the Galaxy. Just when you think things are serious, they aren’t, and just when you think it’s all fun and games, it’s not. It keeps things funny, it keeps things dramatic, and above all, it keeps things fresh.

I didn’t choose the skuxx life, the skuxx life chose me.

Not to say Hunt For The Wilderpeople plants any emotional grenades like, say, Up (a very similar film, plot-wise), but that’s hardly the movie you’d expect, or need. Hunt For The Wilderpeople actively avoids the touchy feely emotions and dives deep into the rough and casual, which works to its benefit. I enjoyed that Ricky and Hec’s journey wasn’t permeated with character arcs and revelations. No one had to learn to be anything they weren’t already, it’s just a matter of opening up and letting people in. This is what makes Ricky and Hec’s bond effective. It’s honest and never asks either to be anything more than they already are, flaws and all.

hunt for the wilderpeople

It’s a beautifully flawed film, not that it has any glaring problems, no. I enjoyed the indie film aesthetic, with the natural settings, breezy pace, and ambient score. What I mean by flaws is the way Hunt For The Wilderpeople presents its heroes and villains. They’re all stumbling oafs. It falls in line with my earlier point of undercutting. It takes the accepted concept of adventure (in all its brevity, narrative ellipses, and power fantasy) and adds an extra fifty pounds. Essentially, it’s switching Indiana Jones for Harrison Ford, tearing away the rose coloured glasses imperative to movie magic. For a comedy, that’s always a smart move.

Trees. Birds. Rivers. Sky. / Running with my Uncle Hec / Living forever.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople feels like a great watch for a father/son outing. It displays an honest connection between two embittered souls brought together by their own impish introversion. It shows that adults can be as bratty as kids can be mature. It starts off pretty sleepy, but it rewards you with a startlingly Mad-Maxien car chase climax. And really, what else could you ask for? Hunt For The Wilderpeople is among the most effective indie films I’ve seen in a long time, owing largely to its irreverence. It’s easily the best film I’ve seen at the Hyland Theatre, and it gets me pretty excited for Waititi directing Thor: Ragnarok (an odd choice for a Marvel film, but a necessary one).

My Rating: 8/10


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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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