Hunt for the Wilderpeople

 

starstar

 


A bewildering movie that seems to know neither its character nor its audience.

 
Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Julian Dennison and Sam Neill 

 

With New Zealand as its setting, this film tells the story of a 13-year-old boy, Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), who disappears into the bush with his foster father, Hec Faulkner (Sam Neill). This is to escape at a time when the authorities are set on taking the boy away from Hec. Not understanding the situation, the press report on it as a possible kidnapping and the police are in pursuit of the fugitives, although for the audience the real villain of the piece is self-evidently the woman who works for Child Welfare, Paula (Rachel House).

 

The fact that a boy only just in his teens plays a central role in this sometimes comic adventure story suggests that the prime audience could well be children of a like age. If so, it seems odd that the bloody killing of a pig should feature early on, and even more surprising is the play made with the false idea that Hec could be a paedophile (we have here both supposed innuendo played for laughs and serious accusations of perversion). But this is just one example of the film mixing its tones.

 

Much of the tale is exaggerated as befits a fun movie and, given the references in the dialogue to The Terminator and to Lord of the Rings, one wonders if other movies are being parodied, right down to a chase finale with crashing cars. Indeed, one threatening encounter with a wild animal plays a like a tongue-in-cheek reference to The Revenant, but that very scene ends with the death of a pet dog and there are other moments when cruelty to orphans is discussed. For that matter the film's warmest character is suddenly dispatched early on, but that leads to an absurd funeral played for laughs and with no indication whatever that Ricky has any emotional response to this death as would seem natural. Put all these bits and pieces together and you have a film that makes no sense at all.

 

It appears that the film derives from a 1986 novel entitled Wild Pork and Watercress by the popular New Zealand writer Barry Crump now deceased. It would seem that the film's conclusion is quite different from that in the book and in other ways too the two versions may vary. However, both book and film seem to be admired by New Zealanders who describe these as being very Kiwi affairs, but I am still left puzzled by why this piece should work for anybody. Given what he is working on, it can be said that Taika Waititi's film is made with surprising confidence but then he made the adaptation so must believe in it and he does have an able cast. One further oddity is the striking choral music, largely unaccompanied, that opens the film but seems to belong to another movie altogether, one that I would much prefer to have been watching instead of this one.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rachel House, Rima Te Miata, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Oscari, Stan Walker, Mike Minogue, Cohen Holloway, Rhys Darby, Troy Kingi, Taika Waititi.

 

Dir Taika Waititi, Pro Carthew Neal, Leanne Saunders, Taika Waititi and Matt Noonan, Screenplay (from the novel by Barry  Crump) Taika Waititi, Ph Lachlan Milne, Pro Des Neville Stevenson, Ed Luke Haigh, Tom Eagles and Yana Gorskaya, Music Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott and Conrad Wedde, Costumes Kristin Seth.

 

Defender Films/Piki Films/Curious Films/The New Zealand Film Commission-Vertigo Films.
101 mins. New Zealand/USA 2016. Rel: 16 September 2016. Cert. 12A.