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Cup of Ko-Fi: A Film Review of Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

This edition of Cup of Ko-Fi is brought thanks to the generous donation of Sam Hurley from Movie Reviews in 20Qs. You can check him out along with his mates on his podcast here, and make sure to follow him on Twitter: @MovieReviewsIn. For this edition of Cup of Ko-Fi, Sam chose Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Want me to watch and review a film of your choice? Donate to my Ko-Fi and support the work that I create here.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) is a New Zealand comedy-drama, based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump and premiered at Sundance in 2016. Directed by Taika Waititi, this film stars Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata and Julian Dennison. When the death of a foster mum (Te Wiata) leads to the adopted boy (Dennison) being potentially sent to juvenile prison, the boy Ricky and his foster father (Neill) end up being part of a manhunt in the wild of New Zealand.

It is easy to see why Julian Dennison was later on picked to be part of the cast of Deadpool 2, because he is pure electric here. Whenever he appears on screen, he grabs all of the attention and is one of the finest child actors of the decade. I loved the relationship between him and both of the foster parents, due to the strong performances given by the entire cast. Even the side performances here are strong.

The screenplay by Taika Waititi may be the strongest point of this entire film, with a great balance of humour and drama blended together. I was surprised how much drama and darkness there was in this film in comparison to Waititi’s later works, but it fits for this particular subject matter and story. This is a simple narrative, but it allows the focus to be on the character development and the emotional journey, whilst also taking a physical journey that is wonderful to see on the screen.
There are strong themes of family and what it truly means to be a family, whether it is blood or having an emotional connection. This is clear between the contrasting behaviours between the foster mother and father, and yet one pivotal moment changes the narrative. I was worried that this moment would negatively impact the film due to what was going to be lost for the rest of the film, but it ended up creating an incredibly emotional arc for the rest of the story and one that was necessary for the growth of the characters.

I appreciate how simple this film is. It is not a film filled with tens of random side characters with numerous storylines and jumping from scene to scene, it is a single focal storyline that spends it’s time with two-to-three central characters and the journey that they go on. This only works if that story is one that we care about, and this one I found myself falling head over heels for.

Given that this film was made for a budget of $2.5 million, it is impressive to see how they managed to create a film of this quality on such a small budget. It does mean that the production design, editing and cinematography aren’t as flashy or innovative as the more recent Waititi flicks, but that is to be expected. Besides, a simple presentation with this sort of story just adds charm to the film.
There is one side plot involving Ricky and the law system, in which he is being threatened to go into juvenile prison. I found myself not particularly connected with this storyline as much as I wished I was, particularly because it is part of the reason why the physical journey is taking place. I wished that these characters were written perhaps with more layers to them, rather than just feeling flat and one-dimensional.

This film was a warm surprise to me and feels drastically different from other work by Taika Waititi, but it still keeps that fun element that runs through his style and has continued to prove that he is an incredibly strong director and screenwriter. This film is an easy recommend, especially if you have enjoyed Waititi’s other works, particularly Jojo Rabbit.

4/5

Have you seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople before? Has this review convinced you to check out the film? Let me know in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.

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