(New Zealand, 2016)
16th – 29th September, DCA
Taika Waititi’s hilarious yet heart-warming comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a delightful tale of whimsical fun, told through the eyes of our thirteen-year-old hero Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his ever-irritable, highly irregular foster carer, Hec (Sam Neil). After a number of previously unsuccessful attempts, Ricky finally settles into the foster care of quirky middle-aged couple Bella and Hec, living on a remote farm on the outskirts of the New Zealand Bush. Despite successfully negotiating a tough settling-in period, tragedy soon strikes this newly-formed family unit. To ensure he avoids a miserably swift return to the country’s social care system, Ricky takes matters into his own hands, faking his own death before going rogue (and highly unprepared) into the Bushland. This drastic turn of events soon escalates into a matter of national interest, with a country-wide manhunt being declared and Hec undertaking a reluctant rescue mission for Ricky, teaming up with the youngster in order to evade the law, with hysterical consequences.
One particular aspect of the film which is handled with care and finesse by director Waititi is the fine balance achieved between intriguing storyline and beautiful landscape shots, which naturally occur throughout the film given its stunning location. The unparalleled essence of the great outdoors is evoked with ease by the director, never failing to demonstrate the serene beauty of this country’s vistas. However, it is important to recognise that this is done with a tremendous amount of precision and attention to detail, never losing sight of the comedic events which necessitate them, a skill which can easily go undetected, but, nevertheless, deserves a huge amount of credit.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople also deserves acclaim for its gentle and reassuring soundtrack, which, at all times, provides our adventurers with an endearing accompaniment as they traverse the wilderness in search of their freedom. With distinctively Maori roots, this really helps add to the authentic feel of a film which, from its first moment to last, really encapsulates a true celebration of the many qualities that the country of New Zealand brings to the cinema.
The on-screen chemistry that is generated between a wizened Sam Neil and newcomer Dennison is a joy to behold. What starts off as an exceptionally prickly relationship soon evolves into something which closer resembles a father-son bond, as the pair are forced to join forces in order to survive against the highly-stacked odds. These include an exceptionally persistent child services officer, fixated on returning “bad-egg” Ricky to foster care, and the unforgiving Bush territory which they seek refuge in. Ricky’s complete lack of experience with his outdoor surroundings is a stark contrast to Hec’s wild and untamed nature. This division doesn’t take long to evoke major personality clashes, resulting in a series of highly entertaining scenarios, more so for the audience than those involved!
For all the laughs that Hunt for the Wilderpeople offers – and they are plentiful, rest assured – this is a story which is driven all the way by its strong, beating heart as well as its humour. Adapted from Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, the film draws its emotional core from the partnership that develops between Ricky and Hec, and the bond that they create with each other that ensures they are able to survive, despite being faced with the most outrageous of circumstances. It is a comedy which triumphs through a delicate balancing act, enabling the audience to enjoy the light-hearted laughs alongside more serious shifts of tone. A rare treat, it is sure to appeal to all ages as well as the most varied senses of humour; Hunt for the Wilderpeople takes audiences on a journey that’s full of surprises. This combination will leave you feeling genuine empathy towards our protagonists, rooting for their survival and ultimate happiness to the gripping, entertaining end.