By Ryan Keating-Lambert

★★★★☆

Wilderpeople is an inspiring coming-of-age adventure through the beautiful Kiwi wilderness. In the tradition of road movies like Thelma and Louise or self-discovery adventures like Into the Wild, but with two lovable scoundrels that show off the charming wit and immense talent of this film’s cast and crew, especially director Taika Waititi.

Wilderpeople introduces us to Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a rebellious trouble making boy who is moved to a new foster home with adorable country couple Hec and Bella (Sam Neill and Riam Te Wiata). After hearing news of being moved to another foster home, Ricky retreats into the bush with Hec and a statewide manhunt ensues.

This is class A comedy – one for everyone to enjoy. Nothing offensive, nothing too slapstick. The jokes are witty, teeming with pop culture and just all round hilarious. It’s the cast that executes everything so well, and no doubt the directing of Waititi (What we do in the ShadowsBoy). Julien Dennison is perfect as troublemaker Ricky – everyone had a class clown like this boy at school . His chemistry with Sam Neill is undeniably perfect, considering they spent 6 weeks running around the bush in winter. Other noteworthy performances include Rima Te Wiata as Bella (that boar scene was just brutal!). Rachel House was very terminatoresque as social worker Paula, and even compares herself to the iconic villain in one scene. Other appearances include comedian Rhys Darby as Psycho Sam and even Waititi himself as a minister.

Related: Aussie and Kiwi Film Fest programme 2016

The New Zealand bush provides a treacherous but beautiful backdrop for the film, and Waititi takes advantage with several long shots of Middle Earthian landscapes and stunning montages of our heroes. There’s also a lot of playful indie rock and electro music in these sequences that reminded me a bit of the recent Captain Fantastic or of a Wes Anderson film. A lot of thought has gone into the cinematography and art direction here.

The film, although being mainly a comedy, does touch on some thought-provoking themes of freedom and adventure. Everyone can identify with characters Ricky and Hec as they both struggle to deal with personal losses throughout their adventure. One thing that never fails to surprise me, is the ability of children to put important things into perspective. Ricky helps Hec come to terms with so much in this film and their growth as characters is just epic. This is proper camaraderie.

This is Taiko Waititi’s fourth film and the first local film to make over $1 million in New Zealand in an opening weekend. It’s also great to see Queenstown dwelling Sam Neill make a return to local cinema after doing the international circuit for years with major productions like Jurassic Park, Event Horizon and The Hunt for Red October.

The film industry in New Zealand has never been livelier and is now making quite an impact on the international scene. Hunt for the Wilderpeople was the perfect choice for the opening of the Aussie and Kiwi Film Fest in Prague this weekend.

The Aussie and Kiwi Film Fest continues until Wednesday the 23rd, be sure to check out the rest of the programme here.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is now available on Bluray and digital download.

Feature photo: The Independent

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