Hunt for the Wilderpeople
directed by Taika Waititi
starring Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rachel House
Piki Films, Defender Films, and Curious Film
Perhaps no evil in the world exceeds the evil of the juvenile justice system. Sad Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) lost his mom, his dad, and his future. Evil case worker Paula (Rachel House) aims to lock him up for life, mostly because he has no mom, no dad, and no future. He acts out about as badly as we all did at that age and that annoys Paula. Ricky fancies himself a streetwise ghetto gangbanger but in small town New Zealand that’s just something you see on TV. He’s sent to the country to live with “Aunt” Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and “Uncle Hec” (Sam Neill). Overweight and clueless, Ricky runs away, flees 200 meters into the woods and crashes until morning when Aunt Bella rescues him. She makes him pancakes and eggs so he’ll have the blood sugar to try again later. Meanwhile Uncle Hec is distant and illiterate; he only accepts Ricky because Aunt Belle insists. A few weeks pass by; Ricky and Bella become friends but her heart fails and soon both Ricky and Hec are on the run.
Part buddy film, part travelogue, part commentary on the influence of American crime dramas on New Zealand culture, this is a totally engaging movie. Ricky isn’t bad, he’s just been forgotten and once some takes an interest, even someone as distantly as Uncle Hec, he flowers and grows the confidence he’ll need to survive. Neill’s Hec is grungy and fatherly and lonely; that’s the recipe for a good male bonding film. The evil villainess is House’s case worker; she’s overplayed to the point of silly but somehow possesses the authority to call in the New Zealand army (all 12 of them.) When she captures Rickey she reads him his Miranda rights. He retorts: “That’s an American thing.” Along way we meet other Kiwi archetypes, there the wacky tin foil hatted Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby), the bumbling sidekick to NAME, a cop who’s not trusted with firearms (Oscar Kightley), and the three evil rednecks out for the bounty on Hec’s head. There’s even a friendly pit bull that helps Ricky on his journey; this kid can now go anywhere once he has a dog and gun. My only issue is Dennison never seems to lose the weight you should after running around outdoors for a year, but he’s a strong, young actor who brings a touching and real edge to his role. Along with the spectacular country you missed since Lord Of The Rings, this is a great movie for the slightly more adult family audience. Director Waititi not only builds a compelling story; he embellishes it with some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet.