Hunt for the Wilderpeople Movie Review
Review by Karen Samdahl (A-)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople was received with rave reviews at Sundance and recently played at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) where it was so highly appreciated it was chosen as a movie to repeat after the festival’s end. I highly recommend this very funny family film to all audiences. We see a budding young actor in Julian Dennison who appeared in another SIFF family film last year, Paper Planes (2015, Australia).
In Wilderpeople, Julian plays the role of Ricky Baker, a chubby New Zealand foster kid from the city who, as a last resort, is brought by a stern social services agent to a remote farm in the bush where he is welcomed into the exuberant and loving arms of Bella (actress Rima Te Wiata). Sam Neill plays Bella’s misfit curmudgeonly husband Hector who is not so happy about the newcomer. Nevertheless, when a tragedy strikes and Ricky runs away into the bush, Hector follows. A massive manhunt ensues when the authorities believe that Ricky has been kidnapped by his foster “uncle.”
Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Dish, TV series Alcatraz) is always masterful in any role he plays, and recently with this film and the 2011 Australian/Chinese release The Dragon Pearl (SIFF 2014) he has brought his great talents to family-friendly films from Down Under. The interplay between the dour Hector and the flighty Ricky creates one humorous situation after another and I was impressed with Julian Dennison’s finesse with comedic timing for such a young actor. Rima Te Wiata (Bella) is perfect in her role. The social services’ agent Rachel House (played by Paula Hall) with her sidekick Officer Andy, as the not-so-dastardly villains who lead the manhunt, are driven by Rachel’s by-phrase “No Child Left Behind,” and they add both tension and comedy to the film.
My only criticism of the film comes when there is a bit of a slowdown in the middle, when Ricky meets a pretty teenager and her hippy father. I would have liked to see more character development with these two.
What I most appreciated about this film is its originality. It is such a breath of fresh air to see family films that are not based on comic strips nor driven by scenes of violence. Hunt for the Wilderpeople was based on a real children’s book titled Wild Pigs and Watercress, by New Zealand author Barry Crump. It appears that Australia and New Zealand are producing much better family films than we are in the U.S.
Beware: There is one wild boar killing scene which is bloody but comedic as well.
One thing I found interesting while researching the actors in this film: internationally renowned star Sam Neill was born in Northern Ireland to army parents—his mother English and his father a New Zealander—and Sam Neill himself grew up in New Zealand. I had always thought he was either Australian or British.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.