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Hunt for the Wilderpeople (4 stars)

EIFF 2016: Sam Neill stars in this charming character comedy from Taika Waititi

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

There’s been something funny emanating from New Zealand for some time, which can be traced back to Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement’s beloved parody group Flight of the Conchords. Writer-director Taika Waititi worked on the Conchords television show, as well as creating breakout cinema hits like Eagle vs Shark, Boy and What We Do in the Shadows; his latest, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is an offbeat story of mismatched friendship that fuses character comedy with heartfelt sentiment.

Urban malcontent Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) has been through a series of unhappy domestic situations that leave him on a last warning before juvenile detention; he reluctantly heads for the New Zealand countryside to stay with foster aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and husband Hec (Sam Neill). When the boy seizes his chance to run off into the bush after a tragic event, the gruff Hec tracks and locates him, only to discover that the authorities have assumed he’s kidnapped Ricky. As they close in, Ricky and Hec forge an odd couple friendship that lends them the aura of folk heroes.

Adapted from Barry Crump’s book Wild Pork and Watercress, Hunt for the Wilderpeople escalates in deliberately episodic form, swinging from gentle comedy to full-on action, and Waititi handles the gear changes with style. There is a neat digression in the form of some hostile pigs, deft pop culture nods to The Terminator and The Lord of the Rings and, best of all, Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby, better known as the Conchords’ hapless manager), an amusingly deranged denizen of the forest.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a simple, affecting comedy; its grizzled elder and young upstart camaraderie may be as old as the rolling hills it’s played out against, but Neill and Dennison’s chemistry ensures this unusual survival story is so knee-deep in charm that even moments of gloopy pathos feel thoroughly earned.

Screened as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016. General release from Fri 16 Sep.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • New Zealand
  • 101 min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Taika Waititi
  • Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby, Rima te Wiata
  • UK release: 16 September 2016

Urban malcontent Ricky (Dennison) reluctantly goes to the NZ countryside with foster aunt Bella (te Wiata) and her gruff husband Hec (Neill). When a tragic event prompts Ricky to run off, Hec goes after him, but the authorities assume that Hec's kidnapped Ricky. Simple, affecting comedy that builds into full-on action…

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