At one stage in this latest film from multi-talented Taika Waititi, young Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) comments that “this looks just like Lord of the Rings”, as he and Hec (Sam Neill) lie in a ditch watching armed police officers walking along the path above them. With most of the film shot in the mountainous wilderness of New Zealand, the observation is valid.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople — based on the book, Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump — is, however, a low-budget film about real people and mercifully devoid of computer-generated imagery.
Ricky, described as “a real bad egg” by child welfare officer Paula (Rachel House), is taken in by warm-hearted Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Despite his initial determination to run away from the isolated mountain farm, Ricky settles in. He’s found a home. Even Bella’s gruff husband, Hec, seems to have accepted him as part of their family. When Hec gives him a dog on his birthday, Ricky names it Tupac.
Bella’s unexpected and sudden demise throws a spanner in the works.
Rather than wait for the fearsome Paula to place him in an institution, Ricky goes bush with his uncle in pursuit. Unfortunately, the authorities jump to the conclusion that Hec has kidnapped the boy. This sparks a manhunt for Ricky, Hec and their two dogs and they inadvertently become media celebrities.
As they continue to successfully evade the police and soldiers hunting them, man and boy form an unlikely bond. Their various experiences and the eccentric characters whom they encounter provide fodder for the haikus that Ricky composes to express his feelings, my favourite being the haiku about maggots. En route, Ricky masters what Hec describes as the “knack” of survival and they end up as “equal best bushmen”.
Even though the authorities don’t really see things the same way, a deservedly happy ending is eventually achieved.
Like the gloriously confusing oration about two doors that Waititi gives in his cameo appearance as the inept minister at Bella’s funeral, his screenplay leavens moments of sadness and pathos with offbeat humour. While all the design and editing components of the film are excellent, special mention must go to Lachlan Milne’s cinematography and the music composed by Lukasz Pawel Buda, Samuel Scott and Conrad Wedde.
As Hec would say, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is “majestical!”