By Talia Amorosano
Garnering an impressive score of 8.4 out of 10 on IMDb and a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is a charmingly quirky, funny and imaginative film sure to seem particularly refreshing to those tired of riding the steady summer stream of formulaic and minimally heartfelt action blockbusters.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi and based on the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump, the film made its world premiere screening at the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year to rave reviews.
It opens with sweeping overhead shots of the breathtaking and mountainous New Zealand wilderness, setting the stage for the film’s adventures, which take place entirely in this beautiful natural setting. One of the central characters of the film is a young boy, Ricky Baker (13-year-old Julian Dennison) who has spent his life in foster care and has just been transported to a new home. He first appears in stark contrast with the rugged landscape, wearing an oversized hoodie with multicolored dollar bills on it, jacket covered in Illuminati symbols, and snapback cap.
The other main character and one of Ricky’s guardians, an old man who Ricky relentlessly calls “Uncle” (Sam Neill) despite his preference for the less personal “Hec,” is introduced with a wild boar slung over his back, dirty work boots and an unflinching scowl on his face. Initially, unassuming playful Ricky and stern repressed Hec hardly speak, but a series of traumatic and unexpected events pushes and pulls the pair of unlikely companions together on an impossible journey through the bush, where they attempt to evade a national hunt to bring Ricky back under the care of New Zealand’s child protective services.
During their travels they grapple with hapless hunters, rare and fierce animals, a bush-dwelling conspiracy theorist and growing feelings of understanding and appreciation for one another despite having said their “I hate you”s earlier in the film. What the film’s plot lacks in complexity its characters make up for in humor and heart. While the two protagonists are markedly different from one another, they never devolve into caricatures or stereotypes. Each actor plays his role with such a high degree of earnestness that the character he plays is genuinely likeable both in and of himself and in amusing conjunction with his counterpart.
When Ricky initially arrives at his new home, Hec asks, “have you ever worked on a farm before or are you just … ornamental?” Later, in the woods when Hec threatens to take Ricky home and hand him over to child protective services, Ricky refuses to comply and says dramatically, “might as well just kill me now!” before Hec shoots him a look that prompts him to sheepishly continue, “… don’t kill me.” Ricky refers to himself as a gangster yet writes haikus. Hec puts on a stoic air yet becomes extremely touchy when Ricky exposes the fact that he is unable to read.
Throughout the movie, each character’s individual development and the changing dynamic of the two characters’ relationship are full of interesting visual and verbal surprises. In addition to quirky characters and stunning visuals throughout, an unexpected but fitting range of music traverses the landscape of the film along with Ricky and Hec.
From eighties-esque synth instrumentals to mellow folk-singing interludes, to humorous impromptu singing by the characters themselves, the eclectic sound track of the “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is indicative of the pleasantly surprising but logical progression of the plot and characters. Holistically, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” manages to be different but not absurd, humorous but not heartless and emotional but not overblown. This thoroughly entertaining, down-to-earth and endearing film is almost sure to leave you exiting the theater retaining a bit of the warmth it exudes.
This movie is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content and for some language.
Talia Amorosano is a rising senior English and studio art major at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and is a frequent contributor to Times Beacon Record Newspapers.