Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley

Director: Taika Waititi

101 minutes

Based on Barry Crump’s wonderfully titled novel Wild Pork and Watercress, Hunt for the Wilderpeople took the world by surprise at its Sundance Film Festival premier earlier this year. Coming from director Taika Waitit, whose previous includes Flight of the Conchords and the sadly mostly ignored Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, his latest movie follows the unlikely events surrounding a boy and his foster uncle as they try and outrun the authorities through the New Zealand bush.

Neill is obviously enjoying his role as utter misery Hec and survives the first 30 minutes on exasperated expressions alone. Dennison is wonderful as self-certified streetwise city kid Ricky and bravely takes a serious chunk of script-beating regarding his waist size. Despite the pair’s polaric backgrounds, beliefs and ambitions (Ricky wants to be a gangster, Hec wants to be dead), their slow burning friendship never feels unrealistic, as various events force them closer together. As the storyline rolls on, the tale flips between watching the pair garner their unlikely relationship as they make their way through the outback, and the sensational nationwide manhunt which is going on in civilisation.

And here within lies the crux of Wilderpeople’s nagging problem. The main narrative thread of Hec and Ricky, although amusing, is played relatively straight, yet the secondary set of characters over-ham the farce sausage to Everest levels of ridiculousness. It’s a little like flipping between Stand By Me and Flight of the Conchords. The latter not surprising given the amount of crew and cast involved in the Kiwi duo’s two series of musical mayhem. Rachel House’s self-obsessed child protection agent Paula and sidekick cop Andy (Kightley) are so over the top in their Partridge-esque surrealism, that it sometimes jerks awkwardly against Neill’s straight-faced misery. It’s harsh to be critical of either side, as both perform well, it’s just that the seismic gap in styles jolts a little.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fresh, original, funny movie and full credit is due to Neill for taking on such a peculiar low-budget project. Dennison has done himself no damage here at all either. Even with the enjoyment factor slipping a bit towards the end, Taika Waititi has produced a wonderful little film about friendship through a kaleidoscope of utter daftness. Next up for Waititi; the new Thor movie.

7 / 10