Review: ‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople’ A Fascinating Look At Love

Hunt For The Wilderpeople, directed by Takia Waititi, is a fascinating examination of love and its effect on human nature. Takia examines the life of 13-year old Ricky, who has never had a family offer to be his foster parents, until now. How does a child react to the journey from years and years of rejection, to the sudden adoration every minute of the day? This film strips all cliches away, and we get a raw look at the impact love can have on a child.

Ricky immediately connects with the woman he calls Aunty Bella (Rima Te Wiata), but can’t quite connect with the man the house, whom he refers to as Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). Ricky is labeled as a problem child who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere and living with Bella and Hec is his very last chance at not becoming a permanent member of the local orphanage. Ricky is in shock at first. Bella and Hec live off of the land; they kill what they need to eat and use the fur for blankets. Very quickly, they power of Bella’s love starts to change young Ricky, but then tragedy strikes. Ricky and Uncle Hec have to go on the run through the bush to avoid the overzealous social services who want to take Ricky now and place him in a state-run orphanage.

Hunt For The Wilder People

One of the highlights of this film was the direction of Takia Waititi. Whether it’s been Boy or Eagle vs. Shark, Waititi’s films always have strongly defined characters, and all of them seem to know where they stand socially. These characters in his films also exhibit a level of seriousness that allows them to be very matter of fact when dealing with the absurdities of life. Ricky and Hec are certainly examples of this. Ricky is a boy who’s never had a family that loves him. Hec is an elderly man who’s lived his life out in the bush and has never made time for children. When both are faced with the absurd notion that child services are going to remove Ricky from Hec’s home, they both respond in such a way that’s unique to each of them.

The comedy in the film isn’t over the top, so that does add a degree of realism. Waititi relies heavily on the comedy being channeled through the characters. His characters are always idiosyncratic and rather than relying on a set scene to garner a laugh, the characters themselves provide the humor. Of course, those laughs are contingent on the film’s narrative being expertly crafted, and lucky for us all, Waititi accomplishes this by striking a balance between the light and the poignant moments.

The cinematography in the film is stellar, which comes as no surprise with Lachlan Milne behind the camera. Going back as far Uninhabited, Milne flourishes when he shoots outdoors. He has this ability to shoot outdoors that not only respects the vastness of the characters surroundings but also highlights it’s sheer beauty. One scene that sticks out is when Ricky runs away for the very first time in the film. Instead of focusing the shot on Ricky as he scampered away, Milne backs the shot off just enough so that we could see just the enormity of the wilderness that was surrounding this home. We not only got the sense of Ricky not wanting to be with his new foster family but we also see just how vast the wilderness is surrounding their home.

Sam Neill gives an outstanding performance as Uncle Hec, but the story of this film as to be Julian Dennison. Dennison’s performance reminds me of the type of acting that we saw out of Jacob Trembly in Room last year. Both performances are very raw, powerful, and rich with an authenticity that we could be talking about this young actor again during awards season.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.