Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) Movie Review by Kevan McLaughlin

Director: Taika Waititi 
Writers: Taika Waititi (screenplay), Barry Crump (Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress) 
Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata 

Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress, Taika Waititi’s film is brimming with charm, sentiment and fun.

Our journey starts with Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), abandoned by his mother, he’s a dreamer and a delinquent who’s been moved by his Welfare Officer to a remote farm in the country to live with his new foster parents Bella and Hec.

Ricky has made up his mind that he’s something of a gangster and he’s better off alone and stages a series of half-hearted runaway attempts, never ending up more than a few hundred yards from his new home. Bella is a wonderfully warm, generous and affectionate woman who’s patience and hard work finally win the reluctant Ricky over, by teaching Ricky about farm life and hunting. Ricky is given a puppy by Bella for his birthday which he names Tupac cementing, in his mind, his commitment to ‘Skux’ life.

Hec is a grumpy, nomadic figure, seemingly out of place in the stable and loving home Bella has made. It’s revealed that Bella has a fondness for misfits like Ricky and Hec and they, in turn, are drawn to her unlimited capacity for love and compassion. This odd little family are finally enjoying their new life together.

And then, in the style of Up, Bella breaks our hearts by dying suddenly very early in the movie. Without Bella there is no glue to bind Ricky and Hec to the farm. Hec gives Ricky a letter which states that Child Services want him back. A devestated Hec reasons that this is the best thing for Ricky, insisting they never took to one another anyway.

Ricky decides the only rational thing to do is to stage his own suicide, with mixed results. He accidentally burns down the barn and runs away again with Tupac into the Bush, only for Hec to find him easily accompanied by his own little pooch. Hec accidentally breaks his ankle, meaning they can’t return to the farm right away and they spend a few nights together in the Bush.

Hec finds Ricky delusional and infuriating and Ricky, missing the warm and easily likable Bella, can’t stand the cantankerous and impatient Hec.

When they both stumble across agroup of Bushmen, they learn that Ricky has been reported missing and the Police and Child Services believe that Hec has kidnapped him. Hec reveals he spent time in jail as a younger man and never wants to return, knowing that no one will believe the truth. In turn, Ricky tells Hec that he doesn’t want to go back to Child Services as his next stop will be a Juvenile Detention Centre. In the style of New Zealand outlaw James McKenzie, the two outsiders evade the Police, Child Services and the Bushmen who want the bounty offered for the capture of Hec.

Although it’s reasonably predictable that our mismatched heroes discover a mutual respect and adoration for one another, it’s nevertheless enchanting to witness. Ricky learns that, although Bella was a genuinely loving and honest person, there’s more than one way to show affection. Hec learns that he’s worthy of being cared for and, perhaps, it wasn’t pity that lead to Bella marrying him.

Throughout their journey we are given a visually stunning guide through the varied landscapes of New Zealand, often reflecting the characters of Ricky and Hec. Hec’s isolated, sometimes unforgiving, nature and his gruff exterior are mirrored perfectly throughout their journey in the Bush.

The vastness of New Zealand and it’s occasionally harsh terrain reflect how lost Ricky is and how hard he thinks he has to be.

Taika Waititi’s script and direction are beautifully realised in a funny, often sad, but ultimately warm and endearing film about two mispalaced souls who find family in each other.

“I didn’t choose the skuxx life, the skuxx life chose me.”

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