When Empire put together their annual best-of-the-year article at the end of 2016, all the expected titles showed up throughout the list. Oscar big-hitters Room, Spotlight, The Revenant and The Big Short made the top 25, along with sci-fi favourites 10 Cloverfield Lane and Rogue One. Powerful BAFTA-nominee Daniel Blake was there too, and of course - it’s Empire - Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War was in the top 5. But number 1? Why, it was Hunt for the Wilderpeople, of course! What else would it be?
I’m sure many of you are wondering what Hunt for the Wilderpeople is, and how it could be considered better than a Star Wars film or the Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Spotlight. Directed by the great Taika Watiti (the genius behind What We Do In The Shadows), Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s quality should come as no surprise. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the finest film of the year. It’s not opinion. It’s a fact.
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a rebellious kid who has run away from his life, wanting nothing more than to be a skuxx-life gangster. The cantankerous old Hec (Sam Neill) just wants to disappear into the New Zealand bush in the wake of a personal tragedy. These two mismatched souls find themselves embarking on a journey through the jungle together, when a national manhunt ensues for the pair. Along the way, they find they have more in common than they initially thought, and a charming friendship is born.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople may seem like something you’ve heard of, or seen, before – grumpy old man meets jolly young kid, and the pair become best friends. But there is something about this film that makes it feel utterly unique and truly deserving of the top spot in many of the Best of 2016 lists.
The first things you’ll notice when you sit down with the Wilderpeople is Taika Watiti’s incredible script being spoken by such amazing talent. Every line of this film is charming and hilarious, with Dennison and Neill easily the finest double act in 2016 cinema. The pair’s chemistry is a delight, with Sam Neill in particular putting in his finest performance in years. For the love of God, put him in the next Jurassic World. Sam Neill is love, Sam Neill is life. Julian Dennison too proves himself as a force to be reckoned with, with only his third cinematic performance! And the film’s story, based upon the novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, is entertaining and engrossing. It’s not all jokes, though - expect moments of genuine emotion and pathos. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a surprisingly moving and poignant tale.
It is also phenomenally well shot. This isn’t just a comedy, it is a drama and an adventure – and the film’s visuals reflect that. The cinematography by Lachlan Milne is truly gorgeous, making New Zealand a character in itself – maybe even more so than Lord of the Rings did, which is humorously referenced here. An electronic soundtrack by New Zealand’s own Moniker gives the film a charmingly quirky feel which only helps to make it stand out from the pack even more.
There are many factors at play that helped turn a little New Zealand comedy into 2016’s best film, but instead of me listing them all, let me give you a piece of advice. Drop whatever you’re doing and go on the hunt. You’ll be so glad you did. It’s offbeat and quirky, but remarkably down-to-earth and poignant. It’s hilarious, and yet moving. It’s a truly charming escape from the world, and a stunning achievement from all involved. In an ideal world, Hunt for the Wilderpeople would be showered with awards. But unfortunately, it’s probably a little too quirky for award associations. Keep your Spotlights and your Big Shorts, Oscar people. We’re more than happy with the Wilderpeople.
The film had a rather quiet rise to the top here in the UK, but January brings it to home release via Blu-ray and DVD. There are no excuses not to see it now. This is one of the best films of 2016 and, come 2020, will surely be considered one of the finest films of the decade. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a masterpiece, plain and simple.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople at CeX
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