Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Troy Kingi, and Taika Waititi
Director/Scriptwriter: Taika Waititi from the book by Barry Crump, “Wild Pork and Watercress”
Composers: Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott and Conrad Wedde
Cinematographer: Lachlan Milne
New Zealand Film Commission
Rating: PG 13 for themed material and surviving-in-the-wilderness violence
Running Length: 102 minutes
Sundance Film Festival Selection


This small film is rising in the box office by word of mouth. It combines family (of sorts), child welfare (of sorts), love of animals, what constitutes parenting and what constitutes love, with a jab at religion, too. All this set against the backdrop of beautiful New Zealand that combines mountains, snow, rain forest and wild boars. Not only that, but the soundtrack by composers Buda, Scott and Wedde, takes native rhythms, gospel, and a bit of rock to the outback and it works. You never know what you are going to hear next.


Sam Neill (“Jurassic Park” films) plays Hec, an aging outdoors man living in the backwoods of New Zealand. Hec is a loner with a capital “L” and has two people in his life. His wife, Bella (Rima Te Wiata), and his hunting dog. Enter teenager Ricky (Julian Dennison who steals the film), almost a dropout from Child Services, who is brought to the outback ranch by social worker, Paula (Rachel House and think Nurse Rachet here), and her henchman, Officer Andy (Oscar Kightley.) Ricky regularly runs away and just as regularly comes back to eat Bella’s cooking and because he likes her. The deal is sealed when he gets his own dog as a birthday present. Alas, something terrible happens and Ricky and Hec end up on the run in the outback. Paula gets the wrong impression that Ricky has been kidnapped and that Hec is a “pervert” and suddenly the entire country is on the lookout for the duo, who by now, with two dogs, are more like Laurel and Hardy with their mishaps, with Hec being Laurel. Plenty of physical comedy and one scene especially, where Ricky tries to dismount from a horse. Toss in a little of “Thelma and Louise” plus illegal hunters, a wild man in the bush, a young girl and her horse, her father who loves to take selfies and you, my mates, have an adventure here. Oh, yes, and the director, Taika Waititi takes on the part of a confused minister, too.


All Sam Neill has to do is stand there and let Julian Dennison act around him. The kid is energetic, part dancer, poet (loves haiku), ingenious and loyal to man and beast. Rachel House as the social worker could also be a drill sergeant in the army. Her companion police officer, tries to keep her on course, but she will have her way no matter what. The rest of the cast who make up the group of hunters (not nice), the young girl and her horse, the father with a camera (celebrity happy) and Rima Te Wiata as Bella (heart of gold) add pleasure to the film. The two dogs have their own personalities.


“Hunt For The Wilderpeople” spans a long time period for those on the run, and you see maturity growing in Ricky and fondness growing in Hec. Wonderful piece of acting here. I went to this movie not knowing what to expect, a children’s film or a travelogue, and got a bit of both, plus a look at someone who was ready to fall outside the child social services network until good fortune came along. There are two sensitive scenes in the film that deal with emotion and each one is handled by Sam Neill. Bring hanky for this actor knows how to do it right. With dazzling cinematography that shows New Zealand at its best, and a soundtrack that surrounds you, "Hunt For The Wilderpeople" is a mature film for children, probably over the age of 10. Adults will like it, too.



Copyright 2016 Marie Asner