Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a foster child described by his social worker as a 'bad igg' (bad egg to you and me). Though he has a history of casual vandalism and rebellion, he is in fact a sensitive child whose formative years have been filled with therapy and neglect, a duality brought out by Dennison's assured performance. Sent to live with a couple on an isolated farm in the New Zealand bush, Ricky runs away and ends up stranded in the woods with his morose and curmudgeonly stepfather. A series of misunderstandings leads to an escalating police manhunt for the pair.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople may be about a thirteen year old boy, but it's not a children’s film. Think violence, blood, hunting, and paedophilia jokes. Waititi is perhaps best known for What We Do in the Shadows, the brilliant suburban-New Zealand vampire mockumentary (yes), that didn't spare the gore while piling on the memorable one-liners.
As with that film, Waititi ably balances grossly unrealistic occurrences – huge police chases, oddball conspiracy theorists, etc. – with credible moments of everyday emotional resonance. (This bodes well for Thor: Ragnorok, the massive Marvel Studios blockbuster that indie-scene darling Waititi has somehow found himself directing).
Directing a film about a hopelessly urban child lost in the wood gives Waititi the opportunity to play with the age-old trope of City vs Country, but Dennison's performance brings out layers of fear and loneliness as well as humour, ensuring that we’re rarely just laughing at a city-kid out of his depth.
Similarly strong is the depiction of Ricky’s relationship with his unwilling foster father, taciturn bushman Hec (Sam Neill). Despite differences of age and attitude, it becomes apparent that the two misfits share a strong distrust of other people. Their relationship, slow and suspicious at first, offers us a look at both sides of a father-son relationship that is too often under-explored.
Neill is wonderful as Hec, drawing out the difficult man’s insecurities and foibles, although his transformation from aggressive to kind is perhaps slightly too fast and complete to be believable. Hec’s relationship with his effervescent wife Bella (Rimi Te Waita), and the contrast between them, is especially touching. Te Waita gives energy and passion to what might have been a sickly-sweet role.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an excellent, touching film, served with generous helpings of absurdity, action, and stunning shots of the New Zealand bush. An unexpected treat.
|What||Hunt for the Wilderpeople, film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
16 Sep 16 – 16 Sep 17, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more information|