When I first saw Taika Waititi’s WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS early last year, I was absolutely blown away by the film and to this day I consider it to be one of the greatest horror/comedies I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. When I heard he would be directing a new film, though not horror but still in the comedic genre, I couldn’t have been more excited. His latest film, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, based on the book by Barry Crump, stars Sam Neill (JURASSIC PARK), Julian Dennison (PAPER PLANES), and Rima Te Wiata (HOUSEBOUND) and is one of those films that will stand the test of time and cement itself into the hearts of those who view it.
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, which is being screened at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 17, focuses on the relationship between Rickey (Julian Dennison), a rebellious 13-year old kid, and his foster Uncle (Sam Neill), after they go missing in the New Zealand bush while a major manhunt is underway to find them. However, this film is so much more than just that synopsis, it’s heartwarming and tender if not a bit sad. As someone who reviews horror films 98% of the time, it was nice to have a change in scenery and review a film that really pulled on my heartstrings while simultaneously making me laugh. What brings this story to life is the exceptional acting from both Sam Neill and Julian Dennison, and truth be told, Julian Dennison steals the show as Ricky Bates. Not only was Julian hilarious but he was able to evoke such deep emotions from me that I felt myself really feeling for his character. It’s clear from the beginning that though Ricky Bates is a troubled kid, he’s just looking to be accepted and loved for what he is; when he does find that he unfortunately learns just how quickly all that can go away.
The HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE is not a horror film, though if it makes you feel better, there are some scenes with gore. When it comes to horror film, we are used to viewing violence and serial killers and supernatural entities that we sometimes forget that there can be a lot of horror in the day-to-day. Sometimes horror can mask itself in the form of a broken heart and soul. Sometimes hitting rock bottom is the horror we face or being pulled away from those we love and cherish. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE is a film that shows us glimpses of emotional horror that the majority of us hope to never face: abandonment, death, loss, but in a way that softens the blow and brings about laughter and promise. By the end of the film I found myself grinning from ear to ear and cheering on the main characters in the hopes that they would find their happiness.
Aside from the outstanding performances, I have come to appreciate the humor that Taika Waititi’s has throughout his films. I loved that Waititi’s developed Ricky into this character who wants to be a gangster even though there is nothing gangster about him; I mean, he even names his dog Tupac and raps hardcore Haiku’s. That theme of being a tough badass is translated throughout the film and I think ultimately becomes a major focal point of the movie. The juxtaposition between Ricky and Uncle is also spot on as you see a collision between the older generation and the newer generation as they try and understand one another while lost and on the run. The humor is carried throughout the film from beginning to end as we learn more about the misunderstanding of why there is a manhunt out for Ricky and Uncle.
All in all, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE is a film that captured my heart and made me believe in humanity. In today’s society, where there is so much evil and heartache, it’s nice to see a film that makes you want to believe in the goodness of people. I really loved everything about HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE and I think it’s a film that everyone needs to watch as I truly believe it’ll go down in history as one of the best films of all time. If you are a fan of Taika Waititi’s other movies then I can almost guarantee you will not be disappointed in this one. To learn more about HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, make sure to check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/huntforthewilderpeople.