This review is part of The Moviegoer's coverage of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an incredibly charming and heartfelt film. Although more formulaic and contrived than Waititi's 2015 comedic gem What We Do in the Shadows, this film perfectly combines elements of comedy and adventure into a tale that harkens back to the gems of the 1980s. Hunt For the Wilderpeople will please fans of many genres- the indie, the comedy, the action, and the adventure. Perhaps most impressively, Hunt resembles a hybrid of the 80's work of Spielberg, and the more recent work of Wes Anderson and Waititi himself. With this latest outing, Taika Waititi has cemented himself as one of the more eccentric and refreshing filmmakers of recent years.
Ricky Baker, played by astonishing newcomer Julian Dennison, is a derelict and unsociable orphan who is laregely misunderstood and troubled. Upon being sent to live with Bella and Hick Faulkner, he finally finds a place to call home. His new home is located next to the wild New Zealand bush. Unfortunately, after a series of unfortunate events, he finds himself on the run from Child Services with Hick, the pair left alone to navigate the bush and avoid capture. What ensues is a manhunt for the duo, and the events that ensue are both wildly comedic and touching.
A vivid tale is painted, rife with witty commentary, and a slew of indelible supporting characters. Waititi also masterfully showcases the universal nature of films through spot-on cinematic references. In one particularly memorable scene, the Child Services agent on the hunt for Ricky and Ricky argue over who has taken on the roles of The Terminator and Sarah Connor. There's also a pitch-perfect "Lord of the Rings" gag, which will stay with you as one of the film's brightest moments.
Most effortlessly, Waititi and his cinematographer Lachlan Milne capture the sacred beauty of the New Zealand landscape. Filled with widescreen shots that express emotion and induce awe, adding to the story and the environment, not just used for filler and for the sake of filling the screen with pretty images a la The Revenant, Hunt for the Wilderpeople romanticizes the bush. The cinematography, in one word, is breathtaking. While we root for two characters the majority of the film, the lush landscape and setting act as a player on its own right, serving as an integral background character. This unique setting, not often captured on film, adds to the ingenuity and appeal of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. This story could easily take place in a location such as New York or London, but the film would then suffer from familiarity.
This film has already debuted in its native New Zealand, where it has broken all opening weekend records, even beating out the blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice at the box office. I doubt there will be as heartfelt, deceptively sardonic and touching a film as Wilderpeople this year, and I cannot recommend this film enough. When it opens stateside in June, I will be back at the theatre to laugh with the crowd, gasp with the crowd, and most importantly, experience the entire range of emotions elicited by Waititi with the crowd.
*Hunt for the Wilderpeople opens stateside on June 24th, 2016.*