This film had the potential to be depressing: The main characters have heartbreaking backstories, the harsh reality of foster children is painfully evident, and director Taika Waititi employs realistic visuals for shocking events including the slaughter of a pig and the death of a dog. Ricky, played by Julian Dennison, also suffers the death of his beloved foster aunt, Bella (played by Rima Te Wiata).
However, there is sufficient comic relief in the movie to save it from being an emotional endurance test. Bella’s funeral is marked by the priest’s ridiculous speech, punctuated by uncle Hec’s evident incredulity. Furthermore, serious scenes are often accompanied by comedy. For instance, Ricky’s somber attempt at running away from home is nearly thwarted by floorboards that creak laughably with his every move. Certain poetic scenes were admittedly heavy-handed, such as when Ricky sentimentally announced that he’d never had such a birthday celebration before or when uncle Hec held aunt Bella’s body for an uncomfortable amount of time, but the film’s mood was largely kept from becoming oppressive.
Visually, the film is stunning. The natural world is used to convey the passage of time clearly and without over-emphasis. A later montage of Ricky and uncle Hec evading the search party stands out as especially beautiful, with the camera rotating so it appeared all the characters are trapped in a snow globe, close but still unable to detect each other. I also applaud that Nina Simone’s Sinnerman played over one of these montages.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople entertains a largely unexplored, alternate idea about highly publicized criminal stories. It was unlike any film I’ve seen before, and I encourage everyone to give it a chance.