Director: Taika Waititi Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison and Rima Te Wiata Running time: 101 minutes
From the director of What We Do in the Shadows comes a raucous journey into New Zealand’s bushlands based on the book ‘Wild Pork and Watercress’ by Barry Crump. If you enjoyed the dynamic between Neill and the kids (particularly Tim) in Jurassic Park you’ll love this.
Ricky is a foster child who uses the Gangster lifestyle to compensate for the difficult life he’s led. So being pulled from the city and brought to the New Zealand countryside with no one but his ageing foster ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ for company gets off to a rocky start. But Ricky goes from attempting to run away every night to feeling at home with Bella and Hector, the film shows this through repeated shots of Ricky noticing that Bella has made his bed and put in a hot water bottle. We get the feeling Ricky has never experienced such care and attention. Ricky tells Bella different haikus he’s written, explaining that he was taught to compose haikus to vent his feelings. One haiku entitled ‘Kingi, you wanker’ is sure to get laughs. Bella is enthusiastic and patient with Ricky from the first moment which helps her to gain his trust, however Hector seems disinterested and it’s clear that he’s just in it for his wife’s sake.
In a cruel twist of fate Ricky is to be rehomed just as he’s found his footing. Ricky decides to fake his death and venture into the Bush to avoid this, however Hector is obviously not fooled by the doll Ricky dresses in his clothes and burns so he’s hot on Ricky’s trail. The pair argue and Hector ends up getting his foot stuck in the underbrush and spraining it. He can’t move so the two of them are forced to camp together for a few weeks. As Hector can’t move, he must teach Ricky how to fend for them and through this they begin to bond.
Once Hector is healed they start on the journey home, however they come across a cabin and find a photo-copied article about the national manhunt that has begun because the authorities have assumed that Hector has kidnapped the boy because of his criminal record. Hunt for the Wilder People hits its stride at this point, going from an off-kilter sentimental story about a quirky foster child’s search for acceptance to a no-holds-barred adventure story.
Ricky and Hec run through the Bush, closely pursued by three hunters they manage to rob twice, a tenacious social services worker played by the hilarious Sarah House and bumbling policeman Andy as well as a SWAT team. In one particularly funny encounter, House insists that she will keep hunting Ricky like the Terminator and tells him that he’s Sarah Connor. The fun has to come to an end though as Ricky and Hector can’t keep running forever.
There’s a hilarious chase scene following Ricky and Hec in a van speeding away from helicopters, tanks and police cars, culminating in a shoot-out. Although Hector ends up in jail and Ricky goes back into the system, there’s still a happy ending but we won’t give too much away. Suffice it to say, this film has spot-on pacing, a lot of laughs and just enough heart to keep us invested without giving us a toothache from the sweetness. Hunt for the Wilder People tackles potentially heavy issues with such a light hand that we aren’t left bogged down; a confident bit of filmmaking that doesn’t feel the need to beat us over the head with its subject matter. If this summer’s line-up left you cold, give this a go.(5 / 5)