Where to start? I liked just about everything in this film. From the cinematography, pacing, tone, and humor, I was on board. The film has a different feel to it. Not just because it was made in New Zealand, but it feels like it’s from New Zealand. Yogi Bear 3D (a TJ Miller joint) was also filmed in New Zealand, for example. It failed to control the background and was a terrible movie. Hunt for the Wilderpeople, on the other hand, truly encapsulates the New Zealand spirit, in my opinion. The drone shots feel like actual establishing shots and the titles for each chapter make it feel like a children’s book. The whole story ends up feeling like a folk tale that you’re just reading along with.
The film is about a foster care boy named Ricky Baker going to new home. He then goes on an adventure in the woods with his new uncle, Hec. I don’t want to say anything more than that because I think experiencing this film with a fresh perspective is necessary. I would highly recommend seeing the film before reading reviews or even watching trailers.
There're not many times that I get attached to characters so quickly. So I was surprised and shocked to see how much I enjoyed Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata). From the moment that we see her, we immediately know that she’s a kind soul. She’s one of those people that you go to in a time of need. She’s also tough as hell and has a great sense of humor. The line that always gets me is “Are you hungry? Well, look at you, of course, you are”. It’s without malice or bad feelings. She just calls it like she sees it. I think she’s perfectly juxtaposed with her husband, Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). He’s an older guy and obviously shaped by the bush. He’s what I would expect Sam Neill to be 23 years after the events of Jurassic Park. I like how the film forces you to understand him before making any real judgments. He opens up to Ricky (Julian Dennison) in a believable way and it’s refreshing to see character development in the entire film instead of a 5-minute conversation. Bella and Hec together makes a wonderful, believable husband and wife combination that is filled with great moments that are really shown through facial expressions. I really enjoyed both of their performances.
Ricky Baker stole the show. He’s funny and endearing. I don’t think that he overacts either. I think he acts like any kid his age would. At the beginning of the film, he’s confused and helpless. He matures at a reasonable pace and learns how to manage in the great outdoors. I think his character development is fantastic and the director (Taika Waititi) definitely used Ricky to his full potential. The secondary characters were are also amazing. They gave depth to Ricky’s character by using exposition in a cool way. I liked how Paula (Rachel House) and Officer Andy (Oscar Kightley) explain to Bella what Ricky has done in his past. The idea to do something that different was really cool. They were also hilarious and added a ton to the film in my opinion.
The tone and pacing of the film are what I think set it apart. The film never feels linear or expected. I guess that the ending follows a format, but I don’t believe that I was disappointed in any other way. Watching it made me feel like I was a kid again and in the forest. I just felt so relieved by the tone. It was light-hearted and consistently stayed that way. The score really kept the film together and I thought it kept the pacing of the film consistent. There’s also quite a bit of ambient noise and replaces silence in some parts too. I thought the balance of the score and noise was quite magical.
Overall, I will say that it’s my favorite film from 2016. I think it’s been a down year so far, but I think this will start a trend in the positive direction. Hunt for the Wilderpeople has everything that I want in a film: great performances, cinematography, and tone. It’s refreshing to see New Zealand behind each character and the drone shots that show the vast forest. I will say that I haven’t been this captivated by a film since Carol last year. I can definitely go on for hours about why I love it. Also, the quick cameo by Rhys Darby might’ve been my favorite part.
Score: 10 out of 10