Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Sam Neil is back at it in the jungle, but it’s a S.W.A.T. team after him this time. There are no dinosaurs on this adventure, but it’s still a heart-warming story of family, loss, and love.

The Review

Whether it’s in the jungles of Isla Nublar or the bush of New Zealand, Sam Neill seems to have a thing for helping young children survive in the wild. In his newer adventure, Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), Neill plays Hec, an old bushman and farmer from the inner wilds. He’s forced to care for a young, rebellious kid after his wife extends her hand to help.

Being the wild child that he is, Ricky, played by Julian Dennison, leaves the farm after his foster Aunt passes away. Hec decides to chase after the bugger, begrudgingly. The epic adventure begins after Ricky insults his would-be rescuer, leading to a minor leg injury for Hec. The two must work together to survive – especially now that there’s a nationwide manhunt for the old man who’s been titled, “pervert.”

Using the on-site landscapes to its advantage, this film lights up the screen with beautiful scenes straight out of The Lord of the Rings. In fact, a mention is made of it when Hec and Ricky hide under an embankment to avoid a S.W.A.T. team.

The spectacular direction led by none other than Taika Waititi, a New Zealand native himself, draws in the imagination, then lets it soar with clever humor. The passage of time gets a little lost in translation, however. Although, Waititi’s choice in dramatic and evolving pans helps. Throughout the film, he employs an artistic use of panning to show scenes occurring in different areas of the bush at different times. Each scene is composed of either our foster duo or sadist of a protection agent.

Waititi even appears in the movie as a bizarre priest at the funeral of Hec’s wife. With hair standing wired and his peculiar sense of humor, he leaves a lasting impression in an otherwise short and meaningless scene.

The relationship that builds on the comedic tension between Hec and Ricky is what really stands out. The kid, whose breadth of knowledge includes rap and haikus, challenges the old man to think outside the box. When it’s later discovered that Hec can’t read, we’re left to view his silent reactions as Ricky reads letters and wanted posters for him. It’s heart-wrenching to watch the significance of the situation pour over his face. Neill pulls it off stunningly. Ricky being his personal reader connects the two characters in a unique and beautiful way.

Meanwhile, Paula, a sadistic yet hilarious Child Protective Services agent, played by Rachel House, leads the massive manhunt. She’s absolutely hell-bent on the apprehension of the child. Why? Because… “No child is left behind. No child is left behind. No child is left behind.”

By the end, our antagonist, Paula, graduates from suit and tie to full-on S.W.A.T. gear. She’s determined to get Ricky by any means necessary – even if she has to use insults from The Terminator and its sequels against him.

Final Thoughts

Rapper and gangster extraordinaire, Ricky, brings a new-found life to Hec’s seemingly bitter existence. The two clash in clever ways that can only be found in a Waititi film. They really are the Thor and Loki of the bush. And Neill truly is the “Peter Pan” of the jungle. He plays the role of wild mentor very well, whether he’s fending off dinosaurs or maniacal search teams. The powerful themes in this story of family, loss, and togetherness would be quite heavy without Waititi’s personal, humorous touch. It leaves the viewer wanting more of these two individuals – both crazy in their own way. After going through the whole film without a single tear, a few drops are guaranteed when Ricky drops the line, “I get to call you ‘Uncle.'”

If you haven’t guessed by now, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople rightfully earns FE’s first perfect score of:

10 Shots of Fandom Espresso

Out of 10

Like what you’ve heard so far? Check out Taika Waititi’s The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) for yourself at Amazon by clicking the image below:

Quick Facts (From IMDB)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Rating: PG-13

Director: Taika Waititi

Writer: Taika Waititi

Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rachel House

Running Time: 1h 41m

Genre: Adventure/Comedy/Drama



Author: Christopher Fain

Author, blogger, content writer, and screenwriter based in Orlando, Florida. He is earning a B.F.A. in Creative Writing at Full Sail University. Twitter: @chrisjf93

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