Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016) Movie Review

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The day before I watched this film I never even heard of it, until a friend recommended it on her Facebook, as it’s available on Netflix.  So here we are.  And a Happy Belated New Year this Friday the 13th.

Set in the New Zealand, primarily around the New Zealand Bush, our story revolves around a teenager named Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his foster father, “Uncle Hec” (Sam Neill, aka Dr. Alan Grant from Jurassic Park).  Ricky arrives at the home of Bella (Rima Te Wiata), a woman who lives with her husband, Hec, on a remote farm where they hunt for their dinner.  Ricky, a juvenile delinquent, is told by his Child Welfare Services Officer, Paula (Rachel House), that this is his last chance at having a home, otherwise he goes to a Youth Detention Centre.  Ricky is accepted with open arms by Bella, but not so much by Hec, and in time Ricky feels he finally has a home.  This all comes crashing down however.  And soon afterwards, Ricky is told that he will be collected by Paula.  To which, he attempts to fake his suicide and runs away into the Bush with his new dog, Tupac.  When Hec’s reluctant rescue doesn’t go according to plan, the 2 end up stuck in the Bush for several weeks, leading to an interesting father-son style bond, and an unorthodox Thelma-&-Louise/Terminator style chase story.

Now to cut back on how much I’ve written Bush, and talk details:

The Acting was very good with much of it coming across as natural, even from the most eccentric characters.  Within the context of the story, Julian Dennison proved to be an excellent choice for the role, while the likes of Rachel House as Paula bring a comic element that adds to the slight surrealism of the film’s direction.

The Characters in this film are…absolutely hilarious.  A part of me wondered if the characters were written by an Irishman who had an ‘Idiot Abroad’ experience (How Martin McDonagh makes characters comes to mind) – but in reality, they were simply very funny and very charming characters with all of them having amusing and bizarre quirks.  Ricky is a Chav who is completely out of his comfort zone (in fact, I’m not sure he ever had 1 outside of his rapper aspirations), Bella reminds me of Marge from Fargo turned up to 11, Hec’s a grumpy old survivalist who has done too much to get in trouble again, Paula is like a mother bear chasing hunters, Andy the Policeman is laid back, like the rest of his force, the Minister (played by the movie’s director Taika Waititi) is delightfully terrible at his job, Kahu (Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne) and her Dad are complete wise-crackers, the 3 Hunters get all the wrong ideas, and of course, Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby).  It might be usual to say he steals the show – but he doesn’t.  There were no boring characters in this movie.

Based on the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump, the Story is…wow.  Yes, the bare bones of the story have been done before.  But the film’s dressing is fantastic – reminding me at times of Wes Anderson or Martin McDonagh movies (without the really gritty vulgarity of the later).  The themes it covers, including acceptance, family, rebirth/reintroduction, coming-of-age, personal discovery, are all done with excellent show-don’t tell, while also demonstrating differences in sub-cultures within the country (Hec being a man of the land, Ricky being a boy of the City , Kahu and her Dad being Mãori who are nothing like the stereotypes, and the 3 hunters being somewhere in between it all).  Does the film have tragedy?  Yes.  It wouldn’t be called a Comedy Drama Adventure if it didn’t have low moments mixed in to balance the story and bring other key elements of humanity into the picture.  Death is also a featured theme as it’s paired up with rebirth/reintroduction without attempting a reincarnation message.  Overall it’s a multi-layered story that doesn’t come across as Oscar bait, which is a small part of the appeal.

The Music in Wilderpeople is 1 of the most eclectic that I’ve ever heard.  The original score is mostly done by Moniker, whose style is mostly ’80s synth, then there’s the folk song Makutekahu by Hamish McKeich at the beginning of the movie and Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne covering Bob Marley’s Turn The Lights Down Low.  The original soundtrack ranges from Nina Simone to Leonard Cohen, to the church song The Old Rugged Cross, to a unique version of Happy Birthday, to the Christmas song Carol Of The Bells (keeping in mind it snows in this film, and it’s summer time at Christmas time in New Zealand).  It’s all very memorable, at times used within the comedy, adding to the laughs, and in general, a fun, well used, but also meaningful selection that suits the different tones perfectly.

The Cinematography in this film is oddly underrated.  Some of the shots are brilliant!  In particular the movie’s intro along with its combination of Makutekahu, works really well, adding both an identity and a quirkiness at the same time.  Some of the hunting scenes, particularly the 1 involving Bella, was shot in such a way that she didn’t have to do anything.  It was effective storytelling, while at the same time, it came across as black humoured as well.  The Winter montage with Leonard Cohen playing in the background was also a very memorable part of the film that I had to rewind and watch again…okay, I do love that song.

The graphics and special effects, much like the cinematography, was strong enough to almost be overlooked, especially with its less-is-more approach.  The digital presentation of wild boars and certain birds in particular was very impressive.

The Location choices were all in the North Island, with the more urban areas being shot in Auckland and most of the film being shot throughout the various national parks.  It demonstrates the natural beauty of New Zealand that wasn’t as present in The Lord Of The Rings, and for this, I say it was a great idea to use them.  Beautiful country.

Would I recommend Hunt For The Wilderpeople?  Indeed I would.  I found it to be very, charming, very funny, but also very touching in its various subject matters.

Acting: ****3/4

Characters: *****

Story: ****3/4

Music: *****

Cinematography: ****3/4

Graphics/Special Effects: ****1/2

Locations: *****

Overall: ****3/4

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