'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' Is The Kiwi Film You Need To See

Not just for the accents.

24/05/2016 5:15 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

Those already familiar with Taika Waititi's work will know it's anything but straight down the line.

His previous films range from 'What We Do In The Shadows'; a mockumentary about a group of vampires who flat share in Wellington, to 'Boy'; a heartwarming coming-of-age tale about a boy who discovers his Dad isn't the heroic adventurer he'd always imagined.

And now there's 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'; the New Zealand smash-hit which knocked 'Batman vs Superman' off number one and has beat 'Boy' to become the highest grossing film of all time in New Zealand. (Waititi's next project is the blockbuster 'Thor: Ragnorak', but more on that later).

'Wilderpeople' follows "bad egg" Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) who ends up on a remote farm in the care of the eccentric but lovely Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her gruff, non-child-loving partner Hec (Sam Neill).

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Sam Neill and Julian Dennison.

Just when it seems Ricky has finally found a place to call home (permanently), tragedy strikes, prompting the obsessive child-services worker Paula (Rachel House) to inform a grieving Hec that Ricky is to be placed into the care of another foster family.

Hearing this, Ricky takes off into the formidable New Zealand bush, but being a hip-hop loving city kid, it's not long before he's hallucinating talking burgers. A reluctant Hec goes to find him, only to have an accident which shores up both of them in the bush for a matter of weeks, causing Paula to think the older man has kidnapped Ricky.

Cue a nationwide manhunt with everything except Liam Neeson from 'Taken', and you have the film that has captured New Zealand's heart (a staggering one in nine have watched it). With 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople' hitting Australian cinemas this Thursday, it may well capture ours, too.

The Huffington Post Australia sat down with Taika Waititi and Julian Dennison to find out more.

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Ricky Baker: one bad egg.

HP: Firstly, congratulations on the massive success of 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople.' You both must be stoked.

Julian: We deserve this.

Taika: We deserve to sit in this cinema. (laughs) No, it's been really cool. I keep on trying to do this in a way that's not too braggy, but I'm bragging. Now I have the number one and number two top grossing New Zealand films of all time --

Julian: -- that's bragging.

Taika: I know. I'm dropping my own name. But it's great, because the coolest thing is actually knowing that New Zealanders actually want to see New Zealand films, and to know there's a reason for us doing this in the first place. If we were just doing this and no one ever came to New Zealand films, I would consider it a waste of money. Funding, that sort of thing. But, because it has a return, and entertains the country and people love it and find that stuff entertaining, it's really cool.

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Taika on set.

HP: Unfortunately it's also pretty rare.

Taika: It's very rare. I know in Australia it's very hard to get people along to Australian films. It used to be like that in New Zealand. And to some extent it still is. I think it's actually the type of film it is.

Julian: Quite a lot of New Zealand films are depressing.

Taika: That's the general consensus.

Julian: A lot of depressing families, family violence, stuff like that. With this film, it's a heartfelt film, it's a lot of fun and cheeky and funny. It's a good film --

Taika: And it's got heart. And authentic human emotion. It doesn't matter how ridiculous the rest of the film is, as long as you have some of that stuff.

Wait. Did we even answer your question?

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Believe it or not, this is not a still from 'The Revenant'.

HP: You guys have worked together previously on [New Zealand ad] 'Blazed'. Did you think you'd ever cross paths again?

Julian: Um, nah. Not at all.

Taika: Me neither.

Julian: I completely forgot about him, after that. Never knew I'd work with him again.

Taika: I knew I wanted to work with you, but I didn't know what project it would be. I didn't know about this film at the time. But then when this film came about --

Julian: --you rang my agent, and my mum.

Taika: I didn't. I just told someone else that I wanted you and they did. I didn't make the effort to call. I'm way too important.

Julian: We went over the script, me and my mum and my dad and we talked about it. I was keen and they were OK with me doing with it, so I done it, and it's amazing.

HP: How would you guys describe your working relationship?

Taika: I would say we get on pretty well. You just do what I say.

Julian: Yeah. I just follow him.

Taika: And if he didn't want to do something, he would just tell me and I wouldn't make him do it. You know that time I wanted you to sit in the rotten tree trunk that was full of spiders and covered with spider webs? I wanted him to sit in there and there was a big spider in front of it and I wanted the spider web in front of his face for the shot. It was going to look really good.

Julian: It was all crumbled...

Taika: And Julian was like, "I don't think... my character would sit... in that." (Laughs). And I was like 'OK, fine, you know your character more than anyone, Julian. Fine. Guess what? Your character doesn't get lunch today'.

Julian: I didn't want to say 'no', but.

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HP: In terms of getting Sam on board, he's said he signed up before he even read the script. Was it really that easy?

Julian: He's a chill guy.

Taika: He's very chilled out. We approached him and said, 'we would like for you to have a read of this script'. I don't think he actually signed up straight away but he said, 'look, I'm really keen -- whatever it is -- because I'm really keen to work with Taika' --

Julian: -- did you just say Taika to get it in there?

Taika: Yeah, I just name dropped myself. And he really was such a big Taika fan, he was such a fan of Taika's work. He had seen all of Taika Waititi's work. And for me, as Taika, it was so fascinating to see this guy who is really a New Zealand icon really idolising Taika.

I talked to him on Skype. To be honest, when I first saw him on Skype, I was like 'I'm not sure about this guy' because he's so clean cut and he's very good looking and you just can't imagine him running around the bush with a big beard and a gun. He was clean shaven and has that classic Sam Neill side-part in his hair. He looks like dirt would slide off him. But he said he was keen to do it. One cool thing he said was, "I really have no idea how I would do this part which means that I probably should try.' Because if I feel like 'oh, this is something that would be really easy to do,' then I'm not really interested. "​

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Sam Neill being grumpy (in character).

HP: From what I've heard, the shoot was super quick and super cold. Does that pretty much sum it up?

Julian: You can say cold again.

Taika: It was freezing. A lot of snow, wind, rain, harsh elements -- a classic New Zealand winter.

Julian: Your guys' low is our high, for heat. So that's how cold it gets.

Taika: Yeah, that's right. Winter here is probably our summer in terms of heat.

Julian: It's making us depressed, actually. That's why we are talking so slow. I see all of the pain flashing back.

Taika: It was hard, man. It was a hard shoot.

Julian: It was like 'The Hunger Games'.

Taika: Like 'The Hunger Game's mixed with 'The Revenant'.

Julian: Mixed with the New Zealand bush.

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 New Zealand.

HP: Did you guys expect the film to be as big as it's become?

Taika: I didn't.

Julian: I didn't, either. I thought it would be a film that New Zealand would watch, but I didn't think it would get to the top grossing film and all this. It's so big. Being released in America and the UK. I'm pretty excited.

Taika: Yeah, the rights sold around the world so now people overseas get to see it. The States on June 24, August 2nd in the UK and then through Europe. It's actually great. It's going to be everywhere. Critically the response has been amazing. I don't know if there are any actual, like, negative reviews in existence.

HP: For people who are reading this article, who might be busy this weekend but are still entertaining the thought of catching this film, what would you say?

Taika: Well if you're busy, you're busy. I'm not going to force the issue. You might be a solo dad on his last shot with making it work with his daughter. I'm not telling you to not go and see your daughter and see my film instead. But maybe pick her up and take her to the film and win some points that way. I don't want people to compromise the important things in their lives, but do try to incorporate it into their busy schedule. Make it part of your day. One of the things you have to tick off.

You could also take your phone and whilst watching the film try and do some work. But sit at the back.

I feel like there's a lot of trash out there. I feel like people should be seeing this -- and I know I'm dropping my name one more time -- but this film is really good and I feel Taika Waititi is a really good filmmaker. The way he tells stories is --

Julian: -- so passionate.

Taika: -- so passionate. And they welcome people in, I call them almost like, a life story. Just a perfect reflection of what it's like to be a person. A human being in today's world. They are funny and dramatic. The perfect mix. Because life is dark and light. And that's what Taika has tried to do in all of his films.

I love how Taika likes to talk about himself in the third person like the Rock.

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Also, shockingly, not a still from 'The Revenant'.

HP: Finally, it would be remiss of me not to ask about 'Thor: Ragnorak'. It's a big deal. What can we expect?

Taika: I really don't know. I'm excited. It's one of those kinds of films I've always wanted to make, and I've grown up watching superhero films and action films and have always been into that kind of thing.

Also, now, having made four other films, and other things, I know my style. I know tonally what I can bring to it. It's not going to be a comedy, but you know, there will be, tonally, I think, that shift from other films. A little lighter. For me, it's just about taking on a new challenge and pushing myself into a new direction.

Julian: A superhero direction.

'Hunt for the Wilderpeople' will be in Australian cinemas from Thursday, May 26, 2016.

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