What We Do in the Shadows is one of the smartest and funniest films of the decade. Taika Waititi took an idea so familiar, vampires, and turned a new, angsty take on it into something remarkably original. No such feats of magic are attempted with his follow-up, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but again Waititi has tweaked a known entity into a vehicle for his trademark, off-centre humour. Hunt for the Wilderpeople tells the tale of a young, lost soul, without a family to call his own. Ricky causes mischief and menace, but when his last chance comes in the form of a pair of eccentric country bumpkins and a couple of crazy canines, he has to make it work. This new, irregular life puts him at odds with Paula, a militant child protection officer who has vowed to never leave a child behind. One thing you won’t be short of is laughs.
These laughs aren’t the kind you’ll find in many other 12a pictures. Hunt for the Wilderpeople doesn’t snark or rely on sarcasm, it deadpans, forcing you to laugh at a straight face. It treads the fine line between adult and broad humour with delicate dexterity, pushing the bounds of jokes usually found in film aimed at a younger market. Paula and Ricky’s new ‘Auntie’ Bella toss insults his way, but unlike superhero films of late, they aren’t performed with charisma and bravado, just tongue-in-cheek straightness. This isn’t a picture that waters down its content: Wilderpeople can tease a child about being fat, then slaughter a pig with comic horror drama, before settling down with a haiku. It’s really quite a skill.
Skilled as Waititi is, he hardly reinvents the wheel when it comes to plot. This is a straight-forward buddy adventure, where one takes time to warm to the other, before forming a bond stronger than Arnie’s abs. It’s a thin story in truth, stretched over a long period, many months, with little to spike wandering interests. The dogs that seem so central early on drift into a distraction, and the titular Hunt grows laboursome long before it channels its inner Thelma and/or Louise.
Yet, these narrative limitations can be all but forgiven, given the circumstances in which this riot was produced. Made with a budget smaller than a mouse’s pocketwatch, Wilderpeople was filmed in 25 days, led by a young actor working on just his third feature film. For the difficult financial and meteorological conditions it was made within, it is a remarkably well-constructed film, with a heartbeat as strong as a protein-shake-slurping ox.
Ricky is described early on as being capable of spitting, kicking stuff and loitering. Just as he proves that he’s capable of so much more, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is capable of much more than entertaining the young’uns. This one’s a little bit special.
Images courtesy of theverge and stuff.co.nz respectively.