Hunt for the Wilderpeople
(New Zealand, 2016)
Directed by Taika Waititi
Review by Kate Roberts
We all need to run from the law sometimes, but it’s a lot easier when the law isn’t already chasing us. Do me a favour: don’t pack up for a camping trip after a warrant has been made for your arrest. It gets very confusing, very fast, for a lot of people. Lots of mixed signals. Instead, clear things up with the authorities first, give your itinerary to a loved one or trusted neighbour, and then dive into the bush. Of course, if what you’re hunting is an exciting story to tell around the campfire, then ignore everything that I just said and channel Taika Waititi’s version of common sense.
It’s not easy being an orphaned, disagreeable, overweight, miniature menace to society. Fed up, Child Protective Services hands nearly-13-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) off to Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill) on their farm in the middle of nowhere New Zealand. Bella pounces on Ricky with uncomfortable affection while Hec keeps a disagreeable kind of distance. Far removed from city life, this outback existence turns out to be exactly what Ricky needs – until things change. The fragile family suffers a sudden shock and Hec, unable to process it, runs for the bush. Ricky follows his lead and gets lost in minutes. The troubled, city-raised boy that no one ever believed in and the grumpy, old recluse who never believed in anything find themselves on the camping expedition of a lifetime. They’re determined to stay out there until nature washes away their sorrows – or until Child Protective Services catches up.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an adventure-comedy, based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, with an unlikely duo battling their differences to survive in the wild. Child Protective Services agent Paula (Rachel House) is dead set on dragging Ricky back to a more conventional lifestyle, while Ricky clings to his newfound love of fresh air and Hec couldn’t care less what happens to either of them. Or anyone at all. Here we are again with another old-man-teams-up-with-misguided-youth story and once again I’m a total sucker for it. Ricky is a little marshmallow breakdancing next to a campfire while Hec looks on like an old, uninterested housecat, mildly curious about how this chaos concludes. Obviously they end up caring for each other, but both characters take so long to admit it that the story goes on feeling like two socially inexperienced strangers wandering in the same direction. For months. It’s so charming.
Ricky, it turns out, is a comedic genius. This friendless, idiotic child does what he wants and says how he feels with absolutely no thought. Hilariously, most of the consequences fall on Hec, who spends his time dragging Ricky around like a toe fungus. Of all the characters, I bonded the most with poor old Hec. Here’s a 60-something man whose only talent is living off the grid, now saddled with a smart-mouthed kid in white trainers who’s resigned himself to the gangster life. Hec tries to make the most of a difficult situation by doing what he loves, and if a sad little kid wants to tag along then fine, we’ll call it camping with no set agenda. So now imagine walking into the first building he’s seen in weeks and finding a wanted poster for their arrest, claiming that Hec has kidnapped a helpless orphan, is running from the authorities and is most likely a pervert. Well. If that’s what people think, then Hec is done with people and the wilderness can swallow him whole. Yes, of all the characters in this story, Hec is undoubtedly my bro.
I was looking for something light and sweet, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople delivered. It seemed like a safe bet with that New Zealand dry humour and with Taika Waititi behind the camera and script. At its heart, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a bonding adventure between two uncoordinated people trying to navigate the damp, dense brush. The police hunt feels completely ridiculous, given how Ricky and Hec voluntarily wandered into the wilderness in the first place, but it’s the prefect fuel to keep this film rolling.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a happy helping of nonsense and it’s so very cute. I lightly chuckled through the whole thing. For a happy, adorable, wholesome evening, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the perfect catch at 8/10.
Running time: 101 minutes
Available on Netflix, Amazon Prime.
Kate Roberts grew up in the Glebe and is a movie addict who has been writing reviews since 2013. Her reviews can be found at plentyofpopcorn.wordpress.com.