Hunt for the Wilderpeople review

Julian Dennison and Sam Neill
Julian Dennison and Sam Neill

Taika Waititi, Barry Crump and Sam Neill? Could this be a match made in heaven right next to the trolley of pavlova covered in kiwifruit slices?  And so it is.

Based on Crump's wonderful book Wild Pork and Watercress and put through the Waititi kaleidoscope of Kiwi comedy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a simple and unmitigated joy from go to whoa.

Young Julian Dennison (Shopping) is perfectly cast as Ricky Baker, a foster kid sent from the city to the middle of nowhere to live with new foster parents. A hard nut to crack, he's a seasoned runaway and wastes no time putting those skills to good use. Well, when I say good, I mean bad really.  In his defence, it's hard to run away when there's nothing but dense Kiwi bush for miles around.  And Ricky Baker is a city boy, remember. 

But before he knows it he's settled right in, his new Aunty Bella (Rima te Wiata) smothering him in much-needed love and hot water bottles, and the less effusive, in fact downright curmudgeonly Uncle Hec (the always excellent Sam Neill) pretty much just tolerating him.

Just when life is good, Ricky finds himself on the run again. This time he won't be alone, which is just as well, because he's on the run in the bush. And Uncle Hec will prove to be a very useful partner in crime.

Hot on the tails of this unlikely duo are Social Welfare and the police, and the Hunt for the Wilderpeople is all on. 

Just as James Rolleston's career was launched with Boy, so will Julian Dennison's with Wilderpeople.  He's a comic revelation, the perfect foil for Neill and a total scene-stealer. Peppering the support cast is an assortment of the familiar and the fabulous. Rachel House has impressed me in more serious roles in the past -- she is hilarious here as Paula from Social Welfare, with Oscar Kightley lending his usual slightly bewildered comic graces to proceedings as her long-suffering copper, Andy. There is of course no show without punch, as Rhys Darby pops up out of (literally) nowhere as Psycho Sam.

There is an almost slapstick feel to some of the comedy here, the pace is perkier and very different from Boy in many ways. But just like Boy, there is a beating heart amidst the crackling one-liners, which once again elevates Waititi's storytelling from the merely entertaining to the instant classic.  

And make no mistake, that's exactly what Hunt for the Wilderpeople is.  

Five stars.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople:: Director: Taika Waititi :: Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Oscar Kightley, Rima te Wiata, Rachel House, Rhys Darby :: Release Date: Now playing :: Trailer: Watch here