HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
When troublesome 13 year old orphan Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) arrives at his latest unlucky foster couple's home, his new foster parents Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband Hec (Sam Neill) are warned about him by child welfare officer Paula (Rachel House). But nothing can prepare them for what happens next, resulting in sulky Ricky and taciturn Hec being thrown together as accidental 'wilderpeople' in the wild New Zealand bush as they are hunted by law enforcement agencies in the mistaken belief that they - or at least Ricky - need to be rescued.
Review by Louise Keller:
There is something most endearing about this quirky New Zealand comedy that is a mix of outdoor adventure and buddy movie. Based on Barry Crumb's novel Wild Pork and Watercress, director Taika Waititi (Boy, 2010) has lovingly adapted it to the screen and follows the mis-adventures of an overweight orphan and his guardian who, like wilderbeests in the wild, are on the run. It takes a little while to fall under the film's spell, but once the unexpected shifts in tone coupled with the changing rhythms of action, dialogue and offbeat characters kick in, we are there for the ride, thanks mostly to wonderful performances by stalwart Sam Neill and youngster Julian Dennison (Paper Planes).
When we see the police-car carrying overweight orphan Ricky Baker (Dennison) or 'A Real Bad Egg' (as the first chapter is called) as it navigates along a road that looks like a silver ribbon, we have no idea what is in store. This is the first of 10 chapters with names like 'Another Door' and 'Broken Foot Camp', as Ricky's adventure begins. The two women in the film are both a surprise: Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata, wonderful) and Paula from Child Welfare (Rima Te Wiata, entertaining). Aunt Bella is not what we expect from Ricky's new guardian 'aunt'; nor is Paula, whose mantra of 'No child left behind' is delivered more like a gunshot wound than a sentiment that will provide comfort.
Things do not go according to plan from the outset: Ricky's disdain and distrust of this final ditch effort to find him a home does a 180 degree turn, as does Uncle Hec's (Neill) wish to be left alone. There is nothing sentimental about the bonding process between Ricky and Hec as the latter follows the runaway boy into the bush, where 'shit gets real'. The word 'majestical' that Hec invents at a drop dead gorgeous spot in the landscape, when they come across an extinct bird while on the run from the authorities and child welfare, is one that resonates.
Highlights are the special moments between Neill and Dennison - like the scene in the cabin from bunk beds, where they write and deliver unsentimental Haiku poetry to express their feelings. This is part of the sequence that features Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby), a bush hermit living off the grid, whose presence is quirky to the max.
The stunning New Zealand scenery plays a big part in the film with its vast landscapes of forests, mountains and lakes. Music too, is nicely incorporated, effectively using such tunes as Leonard Cohen's The Partisan. It's a small film with a big heart and one whose charm resonates and grows on you.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I do find New Zealand films refreshingly offbeat, crazy in the most entertaining way, and peopled with characters who inhabit the outer edges of society. Their mostly easy going, affable and unconventional natures are great screen value. In this film, those characteristics are in abundance, the most valued treasures adapted from Barry Crump's book (I guess - I haven't read it).
The opening sequence introduces us to Ricky the brat (Julian Dennison in a stunning performance) and his new foster parents Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her taciturn husband Hec (Sam Neill), as well as the determined, self important child services officer Paula (Rachel House). But Ricky's supposedly ultra-bad rap sheet is never demonstrated (Paula talks it up) and his attitude soon softens, enough to start the ball rolling with his relationship to Hec, unwanted by both. The development of this is the dramatic engine of the film.
There are sudden shifts from comedy to tragedy and the authentic, irreverent tone is nevertheless well maintained. Some scenes are allowed to be played too close to comedy, but by and large, we accept the circumstances as credible.
Much of the action takes place in stunning, verdant New Zealand mountains and hills, and across the seasons and the brittle relationship between Hec and Ricky develops as we would expect; not smoothly.
Amidst the clutter of the action, we find moments of observation and clarity, although nothing especially new or revelatory about the human condition. Still, it's an entertaining and sometimes touching film with Julian Dennison a great asset.
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HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (PG)
CAST: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rachel House, Rima Te Wiata, Oscar Kightley, Rhys Darby, Cohen Holloway, Mike Minogue, Stan Walker
PRODUCER: Carthew Neal, Matt Noonan, Leanne Saunders
DIRECTOR: Taika Waititi
SCRIPT: Taika Waititi (book by Barry Crump)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lachlan Milne
EDITOR: Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya, Luke Haigh
MUSIC: Lukasz Pawel Buda, Samuel Scott, Conrad Wedde
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Neville Stevenson
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 26, 2016