Hunt for The Wilderpeople (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

WILDERPEOPLEDirector Taika Waititi has a keen and admirable understanding of humanity as well as the relationship with death and loss we have every waking moment of our life. Whether it’s a gory horror comedy like “What We Do in the Shadows” or a family drama like “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” Waititi is never above examining our everlasting relationship with death that begins when we’re very young. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is destined to be a classic drama comedy that pits two men against the wilderness in their efforts to make sense of life and come to terms with death.

Set in New Zealand, middle aged couple and farmers Bella and Hector adopt young Ricky. Ricky has spent most of his life in and out of foster homes, and Bella is more than up for the challenge to give him a home. It helps that their farm is right in the middle of the wilderness. As it seems Ricky has finally found a permanent home, Bella suffers an untimely death, leaving behind her foster son and gruff husband Hector. Sam Neill is almost unrecognizable and utterly fantastic as the crusty and isolated hunter and gatherer who approaches every facet of his life with silence and as much patience as possible. With Bella dead, Ricky is being taken back in to foster care despite his wishes to stay with Hector.

Angered, he retreats in to the wilderness to survive on his own with his dog 2Pac. When Hector goes looking for him and is injured, the authorities think a kidnapping has ensued and a man hunt begins. From there, Ricky and Hector begin traveling farther in to the wilderness trying to find their own purpose now that their common link Bella is gone. Neill and star Julian Dennison have a wonderful chemistry with one another, fueling what is an odd coming of age drama comedy. Waititi packs “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” with laughs, and thrills, and injects genuine emotion behind a lot of Hector and Ricky’s adventures. Waititi is never afraid to go out of the ordinary with some of his comedy, even prompting a hilarious scene where Ricky is so hungry he envisions his dog as a sundae.

Along the way Ricky and Hector come face to face with some rather spectacular odds and unusual characters, including a trio of eager hunters, a deranged survivalist, and teenage girl and her somewhat spacey dad. While Waititi arouses raucous laughs, he also injects sincerity and heart, examining how the pair of mismatched men eventually comes to grips with the idea of death, all the while learning to appreciate life while they still have it. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is yet another home run from Taika Waititi; it’s very funny, touching, exciting, and easily one of the best films of the year.