Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Some movies make you wonder why they were made at all. Today’s crowded cinematic space suggests that if you are going to fund a feature film then surely you have a special story you want to share. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) has all the ingredients of a good film, including star drawcard Sam Neill, an extraordinary setting in one of the most beautiful places on earth (New Zealand) and a respected tradition of filmmaking that includes The Piano, Lord of the Rings and An Angel at My Table. But labelling Wilderpeople as “comic dynamite” and “pure genius” did not help produce as much as a single laugh in my cinema, although it would have been hard to find an honest label that gives the film any sense of purpose. But New Zealanders love it.
The main plotline consists of a “national manhunt” by bumbling police and reward-hungry bad guys in pursuit of grouchy old Hector (Sam Neill) and likeably obnoxious 11-year old Ricky (Julian Dennison). The weirdly funny Child Welfare Officer wants orphan Ricky back in State care and Hector is regarded as a possible ‘pervert’ so the duo head for the hills. They must deal with wild boar, crazy hermits, hunger, broken limbs and cold, but all of this is grist for the mill as Ricky loves living rough and playing a real gangster on the run. He has never known home or family so Hector is his salvation. Like in most runaway-chase films, the fugitives keep narrowly escaping the law but eventually come to rest and find redemption in each other.
This film would be ‘great family fun’ if you are a Kiwi. For everyone else however, even their closest Aussie cousins, this film is little more than a spectacular tourism advertisement for the rugged landscapes and mountainous lakes and gorges that are scattered across beautiful New Zealand. The cinematography is absolutely delightful and will undoubtedly encourage many to see it for themselves. Without Sam Neill’s capacity for gravitas, grouchiness and gruff sentimentality the film would struggle for audiences, and even with him it’s a niche market only. If you dig hard, some will find a heart-warming tale about family or its emotional variants, but there is little more to this film than a few quirky characters, a romp through the forest chased by silly people, and a script that probably read better as a book.
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata