Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a hugely endearing Kiwi curio. Although largely neglected at the box office, it’s offbeat, comic, poignant sensibilities will undoubtedly lead to cult status.
When troubled foster kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) comes to live with Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill) on their remote farm by the bush, he forms an attachment to Bella, though the gruff Hec is initially a lot more reluctant to have him around. However, when a series of unfortunate events lead to Hec and Ricky roughing it in the bush, on the run from the authorities and social services who mistakenly believe Hec has abducted Ricky, they begin to develop a genuine bond.
Although I understand writer/director Taika Waititi has taken liberties in adapting Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress (I’ve not read the book), I really loved this film. Several scenes are laugh out loud funny – especially in moments of darker humour such as a hilariously inept funeral address (Waititi himself playing the officiating minister), and a scene where Hec gets mistaken for a paedophile (no, trust me, it’s hilarious). Speaking of Hec, Sam Neill is on great form. Julian Dennison is also a real find.
For all its edginess and quirkiness (and here I should add a mild caution for animal related gore for the squeamish), Hunt for the Wilderpeople is ultimately a surprisingly touching story about the importance of fostering and adoption. Bella’s Christ-like behaviour in her determination to look after the neglected, leading to Ricky and Hec’s odd couple relationship, makes the message understated but clear. Every child, no matter how problematic their background, needs a loving home to develop and grow into their true potential.
In short, I highly recommend Hunt for the Wilderpeople. You’ll leave the cinema with a big smile on your face.
PS – if you’ll forgive a note of monumental arrogance, this film contains a similar DNA to my own novel Uncle Flynn (although both are also very different and distinctive) so if you enjoyed that you will probably enjoy this.