Director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) is busy in production on Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok. If you're not already familiar with his brand of comedy you can get a taste of what to expect from Thor 3 with Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which is in theaters now and expanding.
The hilarious adventure follows a boy (breakout star Julian Dennison) and his foster uncle (Sam Neill) who become the subject of a manhunt after they get stranded in the New Zealand wilderness. This is one of, if not the, funniest films of the year to date and will probably land on many a top ten list when things shake out in December.
One part buddy comedy, one part coming-of-age, and all around balls-to-the-wall adventure, “The whole style is lifted from the '70s and '80s,” Waititi said when we sat down with him. “There are a lot of crossfades and dissolves and zoom shots and synth music.”
Wilderpeople is stacked with references from Thelma and Louise, Mad Max, and Blues Brothers. There's even a delightfully terrifying social worker based on Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive on tap.
“I think it's good to celebrate that,” Waititi reflected. “That cool, old style of filmmaking. I think we definitely take ourselves too seriously with our filmmaking these days. At the end of the day you've to to entertain, and that doesn't mean wacky or stupid. You want to give the audience laughs and tears. Everything.”
Wilderpeople does that and then some.
The trick is not to slip into parody.
“I think it's just making sure that you hold onto the heart and essence of the film,” Waititi said. “Here it's two unloved rejects who are looking for family and they find it by being stuck together in this crazy wilderness, on the run, and the only thing they've got in common is that they want to be free.”
“You also want to avoid cheesy sentimentality because it can get there pretty easily if you don't keep an eye on it,” the director added. “It's about balancing those delicate moments with these over-the-top broad comedic moments.”
One notable aspect of the film is that it's stunningly beautiful. More so than the bulk of what we see in cinemas, in fact.
When asked if New Zealand is getting almost dangerously romanticized in movies, Waititi said, “Worryingly so,” adding, “Because it's really easy for foreigners to buy land there. But you can't really shoot in the wilderness without capturing something beautiful, so we just embraced that. Just looked for the weirdest, coolest things that have never been shot before.”
You can take in all the landscapes and laughs for yourself — and you should — as Hunt for the Wilderpeople is in theaters now.
You can also check out our Thor: Ragnarok centered chat with Waititi here.