Film review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), directed by Taika Waititi
tl;dr: Troubled foster kid goes walkabout with grumpy old man. Hilarity ensues.
Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a film about young Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a troubled foster kid from the city who keeps being bounced around the system. Nowhere is home so he takes solace in being a menace to society. That is, of course, until Paula (Rachel House) from Child Protection Services drops him off at his new foster home in the middle of nowhere. What’s a “gangsta kid” from the city streets going to do on a farm in the countryside, away from any kind of civilisation?
His new foster parents are an older couple. The kind Bella (Rima Te Wiata) wants Ricky to feel welcome and at home, making sure he’s okay, bringing him a hot water bottle when it’s time for bed and all that. Her husband is the grumpy Hector, or “Hec” for short, who isn’t too keen on the whole foster dad thing.
Because reasons Ricky decides to take a hike in the bush with his dog Tupac (the dog was a gift from the foster parents to take his mind off things), but he’s not exactly an experienced bushman. “Uncle” Hec goes after him, things happen and they end up rather longer in the bush than first intended – sparking a nationwide manhunt, because Child Protection thinks Ricky has been kidnapped by a deranged old man.
Also starring Oscar Kightley as police officer Andy in hot pursuit, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne as Kahu, and Rhys Darby as Psycho Sam.
I was checking if there was anything new on Netflix and this came up. It took me by surprise considering it had hardly come out of the UK cinemas at the time, and blockbusters tend to show up on Netflix UK about a year after their theatrical release. As this was a film I really wanted to see I put it on there and then. Some time later, being doubled over on the bed laughing, Mr T came by wondering what I was up to. Watching a hilarious film, that’s what! (The scene in question was when Ricky was explaining their situation to the bounty hunters … in his own special way. You know the one if you’ve seen the film.)
Seriously though, I loved this film. It’s both tragic and funny and heartwarming and the two leads are fantastic. I hope Julian Dennison will do more films in the future, because he’s absolutely terrific as Ricky. Sam Neill, a.k.a. the reason for watching the film in the first place, I expected to be great anyway, and no surprise there – he was. The bigger surprise is how much that bearded bushman look suits him!
You could say the lady from Child Services was a caricature, because on the one hand she seemed terrible at her job, but on the other hand she also seemed to take it very seriously. Well, you need to create drama in some way, right? For the most part she and her cop buddy do seem to mainly be comic relief – not that the film really needs it, because putting a city kid and wannabe gangsta in the middle of nowhere does the comic relief all by itself.
A special mention goes to Rhys Darby and his portrayal of an unhinged conspiracy theorist. He’s hilarious! (He was hilarious in 10X03 of The X-Files as well, which was my favourite of the new episodes. Classic X-Files!)
If you get a chance to see this, please do. It won’t disappoint. It’s a little bit sentimental without being saccharine, it’s sad and tragic in places but very uplifting, and there are parts of it that are guaranteed to make you chuckle – or so I hope. It’s been described as Up meets Rambo, and that’s a pretty accurate way of putting it.
5 out of 5 campfires.