THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, New Zealand, 2016. Starring Sam Neill, Julian Denison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightly, Rhys Darby, Taika Waititi. Directed by Taika Waititi. 93 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and coarse language).
Most audiences will enjoy going on this particular hunt. It is a hunt in the mountain wildernesses of New Zealand – and a young boy and his foster uncle are the Wilderpeople being chased around the mountains for months by child welfare authorities, the police and, eventually, Army personnel, just like wildebeests in Africa.
How did it come to this?
The film opens with child welfare authorities bringing 12 year old Ricky Baker to stay with a foster family. The tough officer, Paula (Rachel House), along with her deadpan sidekick, Andy, explains why Ricky Baker is a wild boy, a very humorous collage of his misbehaving. Ricky does a circle of the house and gets back into the car, only to be told that this is his last chance, otherwise juvenile hall. His foster aunt, Bella, is a most genial and loving woman (Rima Tae we are to) but his uncle, Hec, (Sam Neill) is a pretty gruff old character only putting up with a foster boy for his wife’s sake.
It must be said immediately that Julian Denison is completely believable as Ricky Baker, likeable despite his carry on at times, Denison being able to deliver humorous lines with excellent timing. Audiences who saw Paper Planes in 2015 may well remember him as the hero’s best friend. And Sam Neill, returning to home ground, plays very well off Julian Denison.
Something sad happens at the farm and Ricky really doesn’t want to be with his foster uncle, so makes off into the mountains, getting lost, feeling hungry (he is a rotund young fellow) and finally being found by his uncle. Hec want some time off so they go into the mountains. But authorities think something has gone wrong. There are notices out for their capture, eventually a reward.
When they are found by some hunters, Ricky tries to explain and this gives the film some edge as what he says sounds ambiguous and the hunters and the authorities presume that Hec has perverted designs on the boy. There is a hue and cry in the media – although it gets onside when they help a Ranger who has had a diabetes collapse.
The film is enjoyable as we watch the old man and the young boy working together, becoming friends, the boy learning some wisdom (to counteract his propensity for gangster ideas and talk). At one stage, Hec injures his leg and Ricky finds some people living in the bush, a young girl who talks incessantly but pleasantly and her father who is preoccupied with getting some selfies with Ricky.
There is also a funny funeral preaching scene featuring the director, Taika Waititi, who directed Boy and the parody, What We Do in the Shadows.
Despite being away for months and in the winter, they eventually get caught, a climax being Ricky driving a car through the bush, crashing through, making the car leap over a road, eventually smashing into a car junkyard.
The final scenes are not as sweetness and light as we might have expected, but, eventually, Ricky goes to the old people’s home where Hec is learning to read, which he couldn’t in the past, and they find somewhere to stay – and go out into the bush to search for a rare bird that Ricky had glimpsed.
This film should entertain New Zealanders, audiences beyond New Zealand – and those who have discovered that they have New Zealand ancestors like this reviewer!
Madman. Released May 26th
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.