Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Posted by on Dec 20, 2011 in Buddy Movies | 0 comments


Disclaimer: A 13-year-old is involved in brutal hunting scenes, some sexual innuendo, and illegal activities—but it’s all really heartwarming.

You might know Taika Waititi from What We Do in the Shadows, Flight of the Conchords, or Eagle vs Shark. His comedy is understated, clever, and the timing is spot-on. There’s rarely a pause before his punchlines; instead, they usually come as a surprise and hang for a slight moment. A perfect example is his lone scene in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, where he delivers a sermon about the afterlife using a metaphor about two doors. It might not be the joke you talk about after, but it was definitely my biggest laugh.

The New Zealander Waititi wrote and directed Hunt for the Wilderpeople from Barry Crump’s book Wild Pork and Watercress. It’s a simple story of an orphaned and troubled preteen boy, Ricky (Julian Dennison), an urban kid who finds the perfect foster home in the unlikeliest of places. His “auntie” Bella (Rima Te Wiata) is the sweet and resourceful woman who takes him in to her home near the bush, wins him over, and then dies almost instantly. He’s left with little other than his dog, Tupac, and auntie’s antisocial husband “Uncle Hec” (Sam Neill). With no woman around to care for Ricky, social services intends to retrieve Ricky and send him either to juvenile prison or a new foster home—a bad beat, either way.

With Waititi’s deft comedic touch, not to mention great editing and music, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an unexpectedly heartwarming movie meant to melt black hearts like Uncle Hec’s and bring hot-water-bottle-like warmth to kids who feel unloved like Ricky. I doubt 6-year-olds will connect with this story, plus the hunting bits might be a tad too intense for them, but preteens will go crazy for it.

There are life lessons a-plenty for both Hec and Ricky, from appreciating the smaller things in life to grieving the loss of loved ones. The odd pairing, as is so often the case, find both conflict and personal growth in their other half. Some films take this too far and come off fake or forced, but that’s not so here. Credit is either due to Neill, a veteran craftsman, or Waititi—and perhaps both in equal part—because the charisma between these two is perfect.

There was a one point in the second act, in fact, before the nationwide manhunt for the rogue orphan and suspected kidnapper kicks into high gear, where I wished this was a series. With all the “reality” camping and survival shows out there, especially ones like Dual Survival (which paired an Army vet with a hippie), it didn’t seem like such a stretch. But this wasn’t particularly educational (a la Survivorman), nor was it shocking or gimmicky like Bear Grylls. The truth was that I didn’t want their adventure to end, nor their character arcs.

The inevitable conclusion isn’t going to come as a surprise, but how they get there is enjoyable and, thankfully, is followed by an epilogue. And, keeping to form, Waititi takes an unexpected turn that made me wish it was a series all over again.

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