Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Directed by Taika Waititi
Ricky is a defiant young city kid who finds himself on the run with his cantankerous foster uncle in the wild New Zealand bush. A national manhunt ensues, and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together to survive.
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★★★★ review by Arielrocks5 on Letterboxd
While watching this film, I kept thinking of how much of it felt more like a visual novel than something akin to a regular three act structure. This was mostly down to the fact that it features several title cards revealing different chapters of the story, completely with different titles. To my surprise, it was in fact based on a novel (one I haven't read) and suddenly all the pieces began to make sense.
"Hunt for the Wilderpeople" is an easy going dive through the woods of the New Zealand Bush. Following two people on the run from a man hunt against them after a couple of mishaps that happened a couple days after they ended up getting lost.
These two people are Julian Dennison's Ricky and Sam Neill's Hector, one a 13 year old sent to Hector and his wife (played by the same actress who played the mother in "Housebound" ((another really good New Zealand movie I'd highly recommend), which was awesome!) to take care of him due to him having no real parents of his own.
It's a simple set up with nice enough characters to go along with, but what really elevates it above anything else is how good the actual presentation of these things happens to be.
My only real experience with Taika Waititi was his collaboration with "Flight of the Conchords" creator, Jemaine Clement, in their hilarious mockumentary "What We Do in the Shadows", so I really didn't know exactly what to expect from his skills as a director on his own.
To my surprise, it's him alone that I think really makes the movie go from fairly average adventure "learning to bond with grumpy old man" story, into something really worth giving more credit to. From the gorgeous shots of the New Zealand wilderness from both below and above, to the wonderful Cinematography by Lachlan Milne, to the really well constructed writing and structure of having each part of the movie be in chapters is what really makes the movie work above anything else.
It also helps that you have two compelling lead characters that you get to know as people and see their struggles throughout the picture, what with being hunted down by most of New Zealand's police force among trying to survive in the bush for months on end.
Their performances are great as well. Both Julian Dennison and Sam Neill work off each other nicely and even offer some genuinely funny moments of dialogue during some of the more heavier moments of the film.
I wouldn't really say it's a laugh out loud hilarious ride from start to finish (admittedly, some of the fat jokes during the beginning were pretty poorly timed) as much would say it's a film that features a compelling story and presentation that happens to both make you laugh as much as it makes you feel a wider range of emotions from the very start to the very end.
This is one I think will get better as soon as I give it a revisit in the future, not because I feel like I've missed some deeper subtext and jokes underneath, but because I actually feel like spending time with these two people again and reliving their journey and maybe find even more enjoyment then.
As it stands, "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" is one of the better movies I can recommenced to pretty much anyone looking for a nice way to kill some time and enjoy the journey. So check it out for yourself. :)
★★★★ review by brat pitt on Letterboxd
this is the up x moonrise kingdom crossover i never knew i needed
★★★★½ review by alie on Letterboxd
no offence but i'm about to shove taika's whole filmography up my a$$
★★★★ review by isa on Letterboxd
A Note On The Origin Of Comedy: "cauc ... cau... Caucasian? well they got that wrong because you're obviously white."
★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
This review may contain spoilers.
Ever since seeing What We Do in The Shadows, the recent horror-comedy that Waititi co-directed, I've been a big fan of his work. Even in the first fifteen to twenty minutes of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Waititi makes a number of bold and admirable directorial decisions, particularly on a technical level, which greatly compliment his narrative. I'll be discussing four or five of these, in particular -- the ones that stood out, to me, as most impressive.
First and foremost, the opening scene of the film is a fast-moving drone shot of an enormous, New Zealand forest accompanied by a powerful, operatic score. This, on an audiovisual level, already does wonders for the director's world-building challenge and the general grandiose nature of the forest, which would come to be the primary setting of the film from the second act forward. Despite drones being so affordable and easy to operate these days, the way that it glides, and patiently, too -- the shot seems like it's never going to end -- really emphasizes the isolation of the main characters' environment, as well as the grand expanse of land that they have to journey through. The utilization of music during this scene is really just the icing on the cake, heightening the spatial strength of an already seemingly infinite landscape.
One of the next details that we, as an audience, are introduced to is the child protagonist's wardrobe; he isn't wearing raggedy clothes, so we know he isn't poor, but he's being transported in a police vehicle by child protective services, which leads us to believe that he is either in trouble, or troubled/something of a problem-child. His wardrobe is colorful and baggy and fly, if not a little bit funky, implying that the young man most likely believes himself to be "harder" and more tough than he actually is; on the inside, however, he's as soft as a pillow but damaged by not having had a proper upbringing and being placed in the system at such a young age.
Then there's that great pair of shots at the dinner table, after the young man has been introduced to the husband of the woman who has decided to take him in. We first see the boy from an entirely symmetrical, almost Wes-Anderson-esque angle, only the image seems to have been altered/compressed, or captured in such a way that the table feels extremely long (and the young man seems distant from his new foster father). Furthermore, the lighting almost resembles a spotlight, placing total emphasis on the boy rather than anyone else, as he's the outlier, the guest, the newcomer and the center of attention. The husband, on the other hand, is captured slightly closer to the camera (making us feel as if he is even further disconnected from reality/society than the boy, seeing as he is the one perceiving the boy to be further away than the boy is perceiving him to be). And the lighting upon the husband is softer as well -- not as dramatic.
That night, the young man attempts to sneak out of the house, but only after his new foster mother sets him up in his bedroom which, judging from the mise en scene, was not a room initially meant for a child to live/sleep in. This is drilled in by the presence of a sewing machine by his bed, but the most poignant aspect of this scene is the fact that his new guardians have left him a few trinkets/knickknacks, as gifts, to make him feel more at home, as well as make it feel a little bit more like his room. And lastly, when he finally does sneak out, the unmissable and tonally disparate synth score kicks in, adding a sort of urban or industrial influence to a mostly rural and naturalistic setting & narrative which, I'd argue, is almost allegorical to the influence and penetration of the foster care system, city-life, technology, and artifice onto the lives of a young boy and a lonely man simply hoping to connect and find friendship within one another, in a world which has casted them out, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
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