Hunt for the Wilderpeople12A
There's an old saying that goes 'be careful what you wish for'. There was a time when the idea of a plethora of superhero films being released left, right and centre would have been the ultimate dream. Who couldn't get excited about seeing your favourite comic book characters leap from the page and come gloriously alive on a wide screen?
Sure, Captain America: Civil War is a great watch and proves that when films of this super-heroic ilk are done well they can be completely enthralling, and yet, with all the spin-offs and what not, we at least, if not audiences as a whole, are suffering from superhero fatigue.
This feature from New Zealand, a small film with a big heart, serves as a reminder that there is an alternative to comic book tales of good Vs evil.
Having been constantly passed through the system, 13-year old Ricky (Julian Dennison) is struggling to find a permanent foster home. Not that he's doing himself any favours, the little scamp, as he's got a reputation for being all kinds of disruptive. Last stop then could possibly be staying with Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill) on their remote farm out in the New Zealand bush.
Although not the most exciting place for a kid brought up in the city, Ricky slowly finds himself warming to both his new 'aunt' and 'uncle', as well as his green surroundings. When tragedy strikes however, Ricky and Hec find themselves on the run, in an attempt to avoid being captured and seeing Ricky thrown back into the system once more.
It's no easy task though, the bush is brimming with danger and the pair have to be constantly on their wits to survive. They also have Paula (Rachel House), the militant child welfare officer, to contend with, who is adamant on hunting them down and have Ricky back in custody as soon as possible. The hunt is truly on.
At the heart of this film, based on Barry Crump's book Wild Pork and Watercress, there is nothing new here; it is a familiar tale of a growing relationship between a grumpy old man and a young teen. It's been done before and will no doubt be done again. But in the hands of kiwi director Taika Waititi, who also wrote the script, this recognisable story is elevated to something quite special.
A major part of the film's success is due to the on screen chemistry between Neill and Dennison; old pro Neill appears to relish playing an earthy role in his homeland opposite a young actor who knows where the camera is without ever having to ham it up in its direction. His solid performance, which is about as natural as it gets, belies his tender years.
And then you have New Zealand itself; curiously enough its bush does not have hobbits and goblins roaming its rolling green hills. And yet, just as New York is often cited as being another character in films set there, the New Zealand Tourist Board will no doubt be happy with the way its portrayed and can expect further pilgrimages from film-goers - albeit ones without pointy ears and staffs - to their breathtaking shores.
Ultimately though, everything that makes this film such a joy must be attributed to its talented director. Waititi, whose previous work includes 2007's underrated Eagle vs Shark, and 2014's darkly comic What We Do in the Shadows, has a habit of producing low budget, quirky features that he always manages to stamp his cool directing style on - an antipodean Edgar Wright if you will. It's only a matter of time before Hollywood (i.e. Disney) snap him up and catapult him into a big budget superhero flick. Oh wait, too late. Waititi is currently helming Thor: Ragnorak and although his hammer time will no doubt be enjoyable, it probably means that he'll have less time for more personal projects like this.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is sweet without being syrupy, and heartfelt without being over-sentimental. And although its story may not be that original, the way its told certainly is. In a word, it's super.