“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” Is New Zealand Gem
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Waititi has been an actor, comedian, artist, photographer, and writer. And he’s becoming better known as a filmmaker.
He began making comical short films for New Zealand’s annual 48-hour film contest. In 2005 his short film “Two Cars, One Night” earned him an Academy Award nomination.
Subsequent films include “Eagle vs Shark” (2007) and “Boy” (2012). Last year his mockumentary about vampires (“What We Do in the Shadows”) was a hit. And now he gives us “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” an adventure dramedy starring Sam Neil.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.
In this cross-generation coming-of-age on-the-run buddy film we meet a troubled 12-year-old Maori boy, Ricky Baker (played by newcomer Julian Dennison). Deemed to be a “bad egg,” his juvie record includes “disobedience, stealing, spitting, running away, throwing rocks, kicking stuff, loitering, and graffiti.”
Ricky’s nemesis is an overzealous social worker named Paula (Rachel House). She sends him off to live with foster parents, Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Uncle Hec (Neill). “There is no one else who wants you,” the social worker tells him.
But the chubby outsider comes to like it there under the care of Aunt Bella. Even if her curmudgeonly husband ignores him. When Bella passes away, Ricky realizes he’s at risk of being placed in juvenile detention. So he runs away into the wood, with Uncle Hec and his dog in pursuit.
Upon finding the pair missing, the social worker raises an alarm that Hec might have kidnapped the boy. With typical overreaction, she sends scores of police looking for the missing twosome, erupting into a nationwide manhunt with Paula leading the charge, spouting inane catchphrases such as “No child left behind.” Ricky and Uncle Hec haven’t always gotten along, but as fugitives, they must learn to bridge their differences in order to survive in the New Zealand bush. The city kid depending on the outdoorsman, then switching roles when Hec fractures his ankle on a root.
Sure it’s sappy and predictable, but Julian Dennison’s deadpan delivery is sure to make you break out a smile when he deals with danger or people or pop culture (e.g. “Lord of the Rings,” Tupac, and “The Terminator”).
Sam Neill (“Jurassic Park,” “Dead Calm”) is requisitely cantankerous, more like the boy than not, an outsider who doesn’t fit in with other people.
However, it is the chemistry between Dennison and Neill that bonds the film into a hold-together story.
The movie is based on the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump. But the cinematic wizardry (camera swirling to mark the passage of time), the spectacular New Zealand scenery (the lush green landscape, pristine lakes, snowy woods), the movie’s score (by the team of Lukasz Pawel Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde), the witty repartee (“Faulkner is cauc-asian -- well, they got that wrong because you’re obviously white…”) marks “Hunt for the Wildpeople” as Waititi’s success.