Hunt For The Wilderpeople


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Julian Dennison and Sam Neill in Hunt For The Wilderpeople - Ricky is a defiant young city kid who finds himself on the run with his cantankerous foster uncle in the wild New Zealand bush. A national manhunt ensues, and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together to survive in this heartwarming adventure comedy.
"Taika Waititi knows growing up isn't child's play but he also respects childhood as a place of adventure, where spontaneity rules and the possibilities are only limited by imagination." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Taika Waititi knows growing up isn't child's play but he also respects childhood as a place of adventure, where spontaneity rules and the possibilities are only limited by imagination. He returns to the quirky backdrop of rural New Zealand employed so well in 2010's Boy for this adaptation of Barry Crump's Wild Pork and Watercress, an adventure romp with the feel of a modern day fairytale that is one of those rare films that is likely to appeal as much to parents as it does to their children.

Julian Dennison is terrific as young Ricky Baker, the unlikely hero of the story, proving more than a match in terms of screen presence for the older actors, including Sam Neill. Ricky, one of the many chapter intertitles informs us, is "a real bad egg", a podgy kid who has been bounced from foster home to foster home leaving a trail of destruction in his wake - captured in typical Waititi style in a rapid-fire series of scenes showing him in the aftermath of everything from graffiti to arson. When he arrives at the middle-of-nowhere farmhouse of his latest would-be carers Bella (Rima Te Wiata, in a warm and beautifully timed performance) and Hector (Neill), it takes just long enough for his hard-nosed child welfare officer (Rachel House) to detail a litany of his failings for him to walk around the building and immediately get back in the car.

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Bella - a woman with an easy smile and a love of novelty jumpers - is no ordinary foster mum, however, and quickly sizes him up. "Are you hungry?" she asks, before looking him up and down and adding, "Of course you are. Just look at you." This sort of off-kilter conversation is part and parcel of the film, with the gruff Hector soon asking: "Have you ever worked on a farm - or are you just ornamental?"

As is the way with fairy stories, however, things rarely stay comfortable for long and despite Ricky fitting into this offbeat set-up, fate is about to deal a blow that will lead he and Hec to take to the bush, while the authorities set up a man (and boy) hunt. The remainder of the movie is part buddy adventure, part gentle comedy hat-tip to films like Sleeping Dogs and a hell of a lot of fun. Waititi barely stops for breath as Ricky and Hec run the gamut of trouble from a broken ankle to encounters with dicey hunters, who come to believe Hec is "a perv" and a conspiracy theorist, played with gusto by Rhys Darby.

He may be covering some familiar odd couple territory but the key to Waititi's success is the way he balances the comedy and more serious moments, such as when he deftly moves us from cheers of triumph to silence at tragedy within seconds in a scene involving a wild boar, while sacrificing not one jot of momentum along the way. His comedy thrives on the absurd and is made all the more successful because of Neill's understated performance, the perfect foil to Dennison's brash city kid. The end result is as warm, surprising and thoughtful as an unexpected hot water bottle in your bed on a cold night.

Reviewed on: 25 Jan 2016
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A kid and his foster uncle run off into the New Zealand bush.
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Director: Taika Waititi

Writer: Taika Waititi, based on the novel by Barry Crump

Starring: Julian Dennison, Rachel House, Rima Te Wiata, Oscar Kightley, Rhys Darby, Cohen Holloway, Mike Minogue, Stan Walker, Sam Neill

Year: 2016

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: New Zealand

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