Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is director Taika Waititi’s comedy adventure starring Sam Neill and Julian Dennison on the run in the New Zealand bush.

What We Do in the Bush

by Alexa Dalby

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

New Zealand director/screenwriter Taika Waititi has followed up the success of his vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows with a droll family film set in spectacular Lord of the Rings-ish scenery by cinematographer Lachlan Milne.

Miss Trunchbull-ish social worker Paula (Rachel House) delivers rotund, problem Maori city kid Ricky Baker (Shopping, Paper Planes) to his new foster parents in their remote shack in the bush. He’s welcomed by kindly Bella (Rima Te Wiata) though merely tolerated by her 60-ish curmudgeonly outdoorsman husband Hec (veteran Sam Neill).

It’s Ricky’s last chance to avoid juvenile detention. At first he’s truculent and hostile to the great outdoors but Bella’s common-sense approach wins him over and he starts to adapt. When fate removes her from the picture, social services can’t allow him to continue living with Hector alone. To avoid being taken back into detention, Ricky fakes his death and runs away into the bush with his dog Tupac, despite having no survival skills. Hec tracks him down, but Ricky refuses to go back and when Hec has an accident, they’re forced to stay together while he recuperates and Hec teaches Ricky the skills he needs to live in the bush.

It’s a classic odd couple situation. Thrown together by circumstances, the relationship of reluctant foster uncle Hec, the countryman, and streetwise rap-loving Ricky predictably develops from grudging acceptance to bonding as friends. But as their trek in the bush extends into months, it sparks a nationwide manhunt as social services assume that Hec has abducted Ricky, aggressive gun-toting bounty hunters are on their trail and Paul and her sidekick, policemen (Oscar Kightley) are closing in. Once they find out they’re wanted, the accidental outlaws use their combined ingenuity to try and evade them and keep the freedom they’ve learnt to value.

There’s slapstick, oddball characters such as Psycho Jim (Rhys Darby) and even a cameo as an inappropriate clergyman from director Taika Waititi himself. Both Ricky and Hec are dealing with grief and their journey is a sentimental mixture of charm, improbable fantasy and farce, with a nod to Thelma and Louise.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an adaptation of Wild Pork and Watercress from the late and legendary New Zealand outdoorsman and novelist Barry Crumb.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is released on 16 September 1916 in the UK.

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