Title: Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Country: New Zealand
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Taika Waititi
based on the book WILD PORK AND WATERCRESS by Barry Crump
Lukasz Pawel Buda
Cinematography: Lachlan Milne
Rima Te Wiata
A massive crowd-pleaser in the international festival circuit from Kiwi country, Taika Waititi’s fourth feature has already become the top grossing New Zealand film ever, and Waititi himself has been propitiously recruited by Hollywood to run the show of the upcoming MCU tentpole THOR: RAGNAROK.
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE taps into the universally viable prescription of an odd-pair adventure, a tubby juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker (Dennison) is sent to a new foster home in a rustic land by child welfare services, he is welcome by the heart-of-gold Maori woman Bella (Te Wiata), yet Bella’s shaggy and grumpy husband Hec (Neill) doesn’t seem to warm up to him. Ricky’s escape attempt is thwarted by the place’s unique topography, a remote house in the middle of nowhere adjunct to a green expanse of forests. And his resistance begin to thaw when aunt Bella’s all-embracing maternal care overcomes a boy’s innate defensive mechanism.
But good time doesn’t linger, he and Hec are bereft when Bella drops dead out of the blue, and under pain of being transferred to a juvenile prison on account of that there will be no more foster homes available, Ricky fakes his death by setting the barn alight and heads to the forest with Bella’ ashes, which he intends to scatter in the place closer to the sky just as Bella wished. Strayed in the wilderness, Ricky encounters Hec, who is looking for him. But, finally, they embark on a months-long living-in-the-woods fleeing while being subjected as the target of a national manhunt, insisted by the relentless welfare services officer Paula (House, hams herself up in caricature, “no one is left alone”).
Waititi is aptly conversant with all the ropes, in the duo’s solitary journey, inevitably both will open their hearts and comes to terms with each other (Hec is an illiterate with a manslaughter past, and Ricky is highly haiku-dependent), subsequently a heartfelt mutual understanding and rapport registers itself and ultimately, the blasé but none-too-mawkish father-son bond that transcends blood lineage and overcome even the most sceptical onlooker. En route, they come face to face with forbidding threats (both from fellow humans and wildlife), but heartwarming greetings also episodically arise: an extra friendly Maori family where Ricky entrains a ritualistic admiration of Kahu (Ngatai-Melbourne), a girl of his age, and a zany hermit living in the wild, Psycho Sam, played by Rhys Darby with a scene-stealing offbeat exultation.
Waititi knowingly plays up the scenery-porn of New Zealand’s otherworldly terrain and its lush flora and fauna, together with an ethnic and eclectic soundtrack, but pulls punches with the harsh reality of how to survive in the nature, for example, it is sheer inexplicable that our hero can keep his chubby figure unaltered after all his tribulations, which tallies with Waititi’s precept of downplaying anything (death, funeral, ash-scattering and a malicious sniper) that would hinder its cardinal quirkiness and light-heartedness. Many film references are being felicitously inserted, from one-liners of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and TERMINATOR franchises, to the faux-THELMA & LOUISE (1991), over-elaborate climax.
Under Waititi’s Wes Anderson-like fabrication of a feel-good fairytale, newcomer Julian Dennison gives a properly scintillating child performance, sometimes precocious, sometimes wide-eyed, but never rubs the audience up in the wrong way (although the self-conscious patter to the three gormless hunters detailing what they do in the woods is quite a stretch for him to pull off). Sam Neill, magnanimously saves much spotlight for his inexperienced co-star but sends off a pulsating vibe as a man who is completely at ease with his self-effacement. Last but not the least, a wonderful Rima Te Wiata radiates splendid affability and effervescence which affectingly provokes a tang of loss when her screen-time is due, and prompts us wonder would it be nice if it were an aunt-and-boy venture. Woefully, under the sexist climate, that would never be green-lit for an obvious reason.