Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Loitering, throwing stuff, spitting and running away are some of the actions of the real bad egg Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and Paula (Rachel Stone) – a member of the New Zealand Child Welfare office – is insistent on giving him one last shot at a family.

The lovely Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and haggard-looking Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) take young Ricky in to their home out on the edge of the New Zealand bush. After scouting around the house, he gets back in the car to Bella’s dismay and Paula menacingly says there’s nowhere else for him. Needless to say, Ricky Baker flees from his new home that night.

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Now, I thought that this was going to be the film and a manhunt would ensue with Ricky evading the capture, but Ricky only makes it 200 yards away from the house and is found by Bella in the morning. Ricky settles into his new home, but threatens to run away each evening, which he never ends up doing. He celebrates a birthday and is gifted his own dog, who he names Tupac. (In keeping with Ricky’s ‘gangster’ lifestyle)

This perfect little world comes crashing down for Ricky as Bella suddenly dies and Paula writes to say she will be taking Ricky back. Immediately fearing the worst, Ricky burns down the barn with a crudely drawn face on a plate as an act of ‘suicide’ and takes off into the New Zealand bush with Tupac.

Rachel Stone’s Paula is hilarious as she takes on this menacing demeanour and continually states “No child left behind” whilst hunting for Ricky Baker. However, it is assumed that Uncle Hec, who is assumed to have gone mad due to the death of his wife, has kidnapped Ricky.

This is far from the truth. Hec finds Ricky lost in the bush and tries to take him back, before fracturing his foot at the fault of Ricky. They instantly bounce of each other and have verbal confrontations, but decide that rather than going back to society, they will srat on the run in the bush.

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Paula never ceases her chase to find Ricky, with her hilariously inept police aide Andy. (Oscar Kightley). She refers to herself as the Terminator and Ricky as Sarah Connor, before she could do chin-ups. Her relentlessness culminates in a hilarious car chase scene with Ricky driving a truck and waving innocently at Paula. The comedy doesn’t just stop there though, as the verbal bouts between Hec and Ricky are some of the best moments on screen.

Julian and Sam’s chemistry on the screen is fantastic and is one of the main reasons this film is so enjoyable. Their verbal jousts in the beginning to the banding together to survive in the bush and remaining anonymous from the manhunt. Taika Watita’s characters are fantastic and he has continued his trend from What We Do In The Shadows. Ricky and Hec both reveal more reasons as to why they want to live out in the bush, but I shall not divulge due to the potential spoilers.

Alongside these lovable and compelling characters Watita has created, he has also captured the beauty of the New Zealand bush with awe-inspiring shots as Ricky and Hec travel through it. This is packaged nicely alongside the wonderful soundtrack throughout (especially the music to go alongside the car chase scene) and creates for a very enjoyable watch. The real treat on screen has to be the chemistry that is on show and the hilarious characters from Aunt Bella to the inept office Andy.

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The story itself is enjoyable, as I mentioned Watita captures the beauty of the New Zealand landscape excellently, but also keeping the focus on Ricky and Hec’s journey and trying to avoid the people they encounter and staying out of sight of the Paula and the armed forces she enlists. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the better comedies of the year as well, as it doesn’t use the crass humour that has been used by the years earlier features.

And of course, the film has heart with Julian Dennison taking centre stage and being a genuinely likable character. This will probably rank highly at the end of 2016, as the comedy remained fresh, the characters were enjoyable, the scenery was beautiful and of course the soundtrack was perfectly fitting for the film.

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