Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Release Date: June 24th, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Taika Waititi Actors: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley, Rhys Darby, Mike Minogue
oung Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a “real bad egg,” is dropped off at “Aunt” Bella’s (Rima Te Wiata) house by the police (under the instruction of the Ministry of Child Welfare) when it’s determined that there’s no one else to take him in. He’s been through the foster home system for years, and has had run-ins with the law – including charges of stealing, graffiti, arson, destruction, vandalization, and general disobedience. And Bella’s vinegary husband Hector (Sam Neill) – first seen giving a wild pig a piggy-back ride – isn’t too keen on having a kid on his New Zealand farm. He’s reluctant even to let the boy call him “uncle.”
Ricky isn’t enthusiastic about the new arrangement, either. His first act is to run away; but there’s really nowhere to run to, considering that the home is located in the middle of some very vast wilds (or the bush). Ricky does begin to warm up to the situation, thanks chiefly to Bella’s kindness and generosity, as he takes a liking to shooting, but not to killing – especially when he witnesses Bella violently stab and gut a boar. When he’s given a birthday present of a dog (which he names Tupac), he finally seems to have a purpose, a friend, and some responsibilities. But then, quite suddenly, Bella passes away, leaving Ricky with Hec, whose ward no longer meets the requirements of the state. Faced with having to go back into the harsher custody of the city (or juvenile prison), Ricky flees into the bush with his trusty dog sidekick.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” employs the same, supremely deadpan humor that director Taika Waititi used in “Eagle vs Shark.” He also sticks with quirky editing, featuring lots of insert shots merged with montages. It’s mostly effective and funny, though not every moment works entirely – especially when the film cuts away to Paula (Rachel House), the lead pursuer and one of the only roles to play her part with too much exaggeration and relish, which doesn’t match the understated tone of the other characters. The film is also divided into chapters, which serves little purpose other than to give away details about upcoming events, as if intent on spoiling rather than foreshadowing.
With classic false impressions fueled by double entendres and hilarious misunderstandings, a manhunt forces Ricky and Hec to improvise in the outback (like a pair of Crocodile Dundees, or Rambos, or, perhaps more accurately, Thelma and Louise), though their absconding is just casual enough that there’s plenty of time for meeting a young girl, saving a park ranger, and taking a few selfies. There are also clashes with a trio of incompetent, local hunters, though the conflict is quite minimal. The levity is high and the severity of their situation is rarely realized, though the purpose is a lighthearted adventure rather than an action-packed chase. Baker and Hec prove to be an amusing duo, presenting a blithe collision of cultures and ages and attitudes, while dually serving as relatable underdogs against unstoppable forces of governmental imposition. In the end, the film is a small one, even with a brief, weightier meditation on the unfortunate state of orphaned children, and the notion of comprehending consequences for a child without an understanding of potential or the future. It’s still entertaining, despite the seldomness with which it grazes greatness.
– Mike Massie