The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a delightfully adventurous, witty, and poignant story with equal parts of beautiful cinematography, clever lines, touching characters, and hijinks. Written and directed by Taika Waititi (based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump), the film has a delightful lineup including Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker, Sam Neill as his “Uncle” Hector (Hec) and Rima Te Wiata as “Aunt” Bella.
The film opens with foster-child and delinquent Ricky being dropped off with a new foster family in the New Zealand wilderness. The child protection services agent reassures him that “there’s no one else who wants you, okay!?!”. Foster-mom Bella is a woman who overflows with love and good intentions, which is a bold contrast to her husband Hec, who is more than gruff around the edges. Bella is patient and persistent with her affections and Ricky begins to let his guard down and settle in, despite Hec’s cantankerous demeanor.
The two men end up thrust together when Bella passes suddenly and child protection services threatens to reappear to whisk Ricky off to another family. Ricky is insistent that he doesn’t want to return to the “system” and instead chooses to try and survive in the wilderness alone. The two adversaries end up relying on each other to outsmart the authorities after Hec is wrongfully assumed to have kidnapped Ricky after an unlucky series of events.
This movie was a big winner for me, from beginning to end. I liked just about everything about it, to be honest – from the way the story was broken down into chapters, to the various pop-culture references (including Lord of the Rings and the Terminator, not to mention Tupac the dog). There was a running joke about writing a haiku to help identify and process your feelings…and, there was clever symbolism like Ricky wearing an animal print hat that I’m interpreting as a “does a leopard change his spots” reference.
I especially appreciated the bond that formed between Ricky and Hec. Both outsiders, labelled and rejected by society, they formed an alliance and balanced out each other’s weaknesses to work together and beat “the man”.
For me, Hunt for the Wilderpeople was ultimately about life-changing moments and experiences, and the people who serve as the catalysts. It’s about the opportunity we all have to learn from those around us, regardless of first impressions.
While it had a limited theatrical release in North America, it is currently available for rent and purchase online. I guarantee it would be well worth your time to watch!
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother, who is passionate about helping others and writing.