Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 11, 2016 @

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a kicky treat.

If I were a flack who writes quotes for ads, I might write, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is "Sleeper of the Year." I'm not, but it still is.

Made in New Zealand, and written and directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi, it has scope, gall, and empathy.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople - based on New Zealander Barry Crump's novel Wild Pork and Watercress (1986) - is more whimsical than contrived. It has an evolving, lively charm.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople becomes a tale of an odd couple on the run. The mismatched duo is an overweight, chunky 13-year-old Named Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and a cantankerous old guy Hec (Sam Neill), whom Ricky calls, "Uncle."

Neill gives one of the best supporting performances of the year, and Dennison nails his offbeat part.

Child-services bring Ricky to an outer region near the bush and give him to Bella (Rima Te Waita) and her husband Hec. Bella whole-heartedly welcomes the balky youngster; her husband is uninvolved.

But dire circumstances strike, and the pair of quirky males has to escape the law. The pursuers are led by an aggressive, burly, authoritative woman (Rachel House).

What makes this odd couple memorable is the wisdom of both. Hec is wise to the ways of the woods. Young Ricky is culturally smart. He does hip hop and writes haikus. That sounds too precious, but it's made human. A daffy, but intelligent 13 year-old, what a concept.

New Zealand - its bush and its wilds - is a major character in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Cinematographer New Zealander Lachlan Milne captures the snowy expanses and natural beauty of the country.

Director Waititi knows buddy-movies, and he has a chase scene reminiscent of Thelma and Louise (1991), although it has a different conclusion.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople basically is a family film, but it has two "look-away" scenes, when wild boars spray blood. But that gives the film a toughness that balances the sentimentality.

Near the end, Ricky admits, "I just got carried away being an outlaw - had so much fun."

The audience probably had fun, too.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one long chuckle.

© 2000-2018 Tony Macklin