Film review – Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016)

SPOILER ALERT – There’s a spoiler pretty much immediately in the first paragraph of this review. Sorry, it just turned out that way. Come back when you’ve seen the film and rejoice in its excellence with me. General  and spoile-free review: it’s excellent and well worth watching.

Here we go…

There is a moment, about twenty minutes into Hunt for the Wilderpeople, where the laughs start rolling in and the set up falls into place, proving that very good things come to those who wait. That this happens in the middle of the funeral of one of the lead characters, who is unexpectedly killed-off in the middle of the opening act, proves the point that comedy doesn’t have to be routine to be absolutely hilarious.

Indeed, looking at the two lead actors, there is nothing to suspect they would work on a comedy duo level. Sam Neill has been doing fantastic work for years, delivering memorably serious performances in the likes of The Hunt for Red October, Dead Calm, The Piano and Jurassic Park. His partner in crime in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Julian Dennison, is pretty much a newcomer to the industry, having starred in 2015’s Paper Planes and not much else (at least not much that has troubled the international market).

It’s strange then that they have formed a bizarre chemistry around which this film’s many successes hang, taking turns to be the straight man when the time is right. It’s a successful combination and one that takes what could have been a simple live-action remake of Pixar’s Up and turns it into an enjoyable romp through the New Zealand countryside.

Dennison is, ultimately, the real find of the film. As the rebellious youth that nobody wants, he is privy to some of the best lines in the film. His delivery is natural and faultless.

Taika Waititi may be in the process of directing the upcoming next instalment of the Thor film series (set for release in late 2017), but he is staying rooted to what he knows best for as long as possible. One can only hope that Marvel allow him to finish his journey with the film rather than lose faith at the eleventh hour as they did with the last quirky comedy director they went with: Edgar Wright.

On this evidence, they would be wise to not make the same mistake twice.

Hunt for the WIlderpeople is available now on DVD.

What We Do In The Shadows (Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement, 2014)

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s mockumetary What We Do In The Shadows follows a group of Wellington-based vampires as they try to come to terms with living in the 21st Century. It’s a nice new take on the vampire genre given the recent attempts by the Twilight Saga to ruin both vampires and werewolves for a whole generation, but it didn’t really get going until the final third.

A lot of the dynamics of the humour come from the fact that the three main characters – Viago (Waititi), Vladislav (Clement), and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) – have their own separate issues in adapting to and accepting a modern domestic life. Viago is a bit of a stickler for cleanliness, moaning about the dishes not being done and putting tissues down to protect the carpets before he bites into victims’ necks. It works well for most of the film and they’re able to create a lot of humour from the situations.

IMG_9532.JPG

One thing it borrows on heavily from Waititi and Clement’s most successful collaboration – Flight of the Conchords – is the ability to inflate the mundane everyday goings-on of the main characters to create massive issues. They’ve clearly thought the subject matter through and found some humorous takes on what could happen if vampires had to, for example, go clubbing. First of all, they can’t check themselves out in the mirror as they have no reflection, so they have to draw pictures of each other to illustrate what they each look like. Secondly, the only clothes they have are salvaged from their victims, so outfit choices are limited. It is funny, but not side-splittingly hilarious.

Towards the end of the film, their relationship to the local werewolves provide some huge laughs and the situation at the annual social dinner with other vampires (plus zombies) is also well thought out and delivered. It was the pay-off for what at times felt a little contrived throughout the saggy middle of the film.

IMG_9533.JPG

Mockumentaries are a strange thing. Some people love them, some people hate them. They’re always going to get compared to the genre-defining Spinal Tap, which is probably never going to bettered. I saw past that, but couldn’t help thinking that it was both a great idea and a missed opportunity.

This isn’t a film that necessitates a trip to the cinema, but would be a worthy view once it becomes available on the various home entertainment channels early next year, especially if you’re a fan of their previous work.

What We Do In The Shadows is released in the UK on 21st November 2014 and in the USA on 13th February 2015.