Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is sent to live on a remote New Zealand farm with his new foster parents Hec (Sam Neill) and Bella (Rima Te Wiata), as a last resort; Ricky has a reputation for being troubled, so the hope is that so far away from everything, he cannot get into trouble. When Bella unexpectedly dies, Child Services arrange to take Ricky back into care so he makes a run for it, with Hec following after him. With the two hiding out in the wilderness, and rumours circulating of child sexual abuse – of which there is none – Hec and Ricky have no choice but to live off the land until the national manhunt for the pair is called off.
Directed by Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is as strange and wonderful as you could hope, seeing as Waititi previously brought us Eagle Vs Shark and What We Do in the Shadows. A tale of renegades, outlaws and two people making a connection, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is fun, funny and surprisingly touching.
Julian Dennison is on fantastic form as the pre-teenage Ricky Baker in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Not so much troubled as ignored, Dennison makes Baker charming and slightly ridiculous, as he tries to become the gangster he believes himself to be, and seemingly has trouble staying quiet for more than a couple of moments. In this way, Ricky is the perfect foil for Sam Neill’s monosyllabic Hec, who seems to only want to be left alone in life, but when duty calls, he answers. The two are lovely on screen together, and make for an utterly charming and watchable odd couple. The rest of the cast features Taika Waititi, Rima Te Waita, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley and Rhys Darby, whose small cameo is hilarious and delightfully odd.
As screenwriter, Taika Waititi has adapted Barry Crump’s book Wild Pork and Watercress, and sets it in a heightened reality where a missing foster kid would cause a national manhunt. This then allows Waititi to populate the film with over the top characters, and makes a small adventure seem huge and dangerous. The dialogue for the film is top notch, and simultaneously takes the mick out of new Zealand and those who call the country at the bottom of the world home, while simultaneously being a love letter to Waititi’s homeland. There are also several references to other films in this madcap and charming film, including Thelma and Louise, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which of course, has been one of New Zealand’s most successful cinematic outings.
As director, Taika Waititi makes sure that Hunt for the Wilderpeople is funny and exciting in equal measure, coaxing wonderful and slightly absurd performances from his cast, while taking full advantage of New Zealand’s beautiful scenery in the film. The entire film is imbued with a sense of adventure, with a warm heart beating at the centre of the film that leaves the audience never wanting this odyssey across New Zealand to end.
In all, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is odd, funny and utterly heart warming. Dennison and Neill are wonderful together, and Taika Waititi has done a wonderful job in making a small story seem huge, and allowing the audience to care for the characters right from the very start. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a truly special cinematic experience, and a film that needs to be seen.