HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016) Film Review from the 15th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by Taika Waititi, starring Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby, Rima Te Wiata, and Oscar Kightley, Stan Walker and Rachel House.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the latest imports from New Zealand that brings viewers back to when kids movies were rebellious but full of heart. The film is a tale of finding love, family, and adventure. It’s filled with danger, but in a fun way with fugitives and guns as our characters try to survive out in the wild.
Directed by Taika Waititi and based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, the story follows Ricky (Julian Dennison), a troublesome foster kid who is among the worst of the worst. After receiving complaints from many foster homes for his reckless behavior and antics, he’s taken in by Aunt Bella (Rima Te Waita) and Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). Bella shows that she’s good-hearted towards the boy, despite her odd behavior and seems okay with killing wild animals for fun and living life in the wild. Hec is more of the quiet type who doesn’t seem to care or want Ricky in his life.
Just when Ricky settles in with his new family, tragedy strikes and the boy decides to fake his own death and run away with some food on his back, a gun, and his dog Tupac into the wilderness to make a life for himself. Things don’t go well for Ricky living life on his own, but Hec easily finds him and sees how bad Ricky is at living in the wild. However, things take a turn for the worst and the two end up camping together. Their little camp out becomes a long one as their disappearance takes notice with the authorities and a manhunt ensues with Hec labeled as a fugitive accused of kidnapping Ricky.
It certainly is a struggle seeing Hec living life as Public Enemy #1 and trying to take care of a kid that isn’t bright for his age. However, Waititi manages to pull it off by adding some dramatic elements into a somewhat comedic environment. The film’s plot is a simple one, but it’s done so marvelously well by the performances of Dennison and Neill. In what is supposed to be a journey home turns into an adventure filled with intrigue in finding one’s self in the wilderness as they make the big forest into their new habitat. The two characters develop a strong bond as they both find fondness and nuisance in each other.
Taika Waititi certainly draws some inspiration in this film from other movies of the 80s like The Goonies, Adventures in Babysitting, and even Thelma & Louise. It doesn’t come off as a spoof of the genre, but it certainly stands on it’s own. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a great piece of work, filled with novelty and tension. Waititi’s filmmaking is also quite unique, especially with the montages he frequently uses throughout the film.
The film is also beautifully shot in the big landscapes of Waititi’s native New Zealand. Each scene is set outside this gorgeous country that not a lot of movies film in. Hunt for the Wilderpeople takes full advantage of the wonderful countryside in order to tell a hilarious and entertaining story about finding family and adventure. The scenery throughout the film is nothing less than stunning to look at while enjoying the film as well.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople really asks the question of what does one do in a sticky situation where there is no manual or rules on how to get out of it. The concept of responsibility and irresponsibility become one and the same for our characters. When Hec decides to protect Ricky from child welfare services, it pits them on a dangerous path against social worker Paula (Rachel House), who takes the chase a bit too far by pretending to be The Terminator. There is some goofiness in there with Ricky and Paula’s quarrel, especially with Hec. The film also goes into some adult innuendos without implying it, but it still finds a suitable audience with the material.
We don’t see a lot of great kid flicks these days or getting these films as much recognition among moviegoers. Hunt for the Wilderpeople certainly finds an audience and helps bring the kid out in all of us. It is filled with some laugh-out-loud moments and some wonderful performances from the cast. This is one of those rare family films that cater to both adults and kids. Waititi brings in some great imagination into the movie, which puts him in the right direction towards a bright future in filmmaking.
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