Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Based on Barry Crump’s 2005 novel, ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ was a big hit in 2016. It further enhanced the reputation of New Zealand director Taika Waititi who went on to direct two Marvel ‘Thor’ films as well as ‘JoJo Rabbit’. His quirky story-telling style turned those films into huge successes with audiences appreciating watching something unique. ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ has plenty of individuality making it stand-out. A tale of love, loss and belonging has a charm that should appeal to all ages.

Juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker (Jullian Dennison) is sent to live in a foster home. Shipped out to the countryside, he is cared for by Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband Hec (Sam Neil). Although getting along nicely with Bella, Ricky has a rocky relationship with Hec, an eccentric and cranky old devil. When Bella suddenly dies, Ricky goes on the run. Going after the boy, Hec wants to ensure he’s safe. Due to a series of misunderstandings, both find themselves the target of a nationwide manhunt. Delving deep into the New Zealand bushland, Hec and Ricky have to learn to survive its harsh landscape and each other.

‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ is a consistently watchable mix of action, comedy, drama with a dash of fantasy. This hodgepodge of styles shouldn’t work as well as it does which is a credit to the performances and direction. The story is a riff on the usual ‘people on a journey’ motif. What may seem an old-fashioned device is given freshness as Ricky and Hec are quirky companions on an unusual quest. Their introverted natures and peculiar mindsets alienate them from an outside world mid-judging their actions. The humour comes from the reactions of those they meet, who seem even more bizarre as their ‘normal behaviour’ is anything but.

As with any ‘journey-type’ film, ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ heavily relies on its cast. Dennison and Neill make a great team. Despite their character’s wayward natures, some of their traits are relatable, making it easier following their wanderings. It would be easy to provide over the top performances with the material, but all bring gravitas to their roles in spite of the increasingly frantic plot. The New Zealand scenery effectively conveys the sheer scale and beauty it offers. It adds another layer to the other-wordly feel the movie occasionally has.

It’s easy seeing why ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ became the most successful New Zealand film made. It has its own unique qualities adding to its value with strong writing and acting. It’s been a pleasure seeing what Waititi did after this, as even the mighty Marvel movie machine is not big enough to smother his story-telling creativity which served him so well here.

Rating out of 10: 7


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