New Zealander Taika Waititi’s last film, What We Do In The Shadows, offered (against all the odds) a refreshingly original take on vampirism – and the oddly titled Hunt for the Wilderpeople is another quirky and unusual film, set in the writer/director’s homeland. It tells the story of Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a troubled teenager in care whose unruly behaviour has pretty much exhausted the list of foster families prepared to give him a chance. In a last-gasp effort to find him a suitable home, he is placed with Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her curmudgeonly husband, Hec (Sam Neill), who live in a shotgun shack in the middle of nowhere.
After initial teething troubles, Ricky takes a shine to Bella and, for the first time ever, his future looks promising – but then she dies unexpectedly and Hec isn’t slow to point out that having Ricky here was all his wife’s idea. Plans are set in motion to take Ricky back into care, whereupon, he heads off into the outback, determined to fend for himself – and Hec has little option but to go after him. After an accident obliges Hec to lay up for several weeks to recuperate, Ricky and Hec finally begin to bond…
The interplay between Neil and Dennison is a winning combination, delightful and often hilarious – while the succession of eccentric characters they encounter throughout the film adds to the fun, particularly Rhys Derby’s ‘Psycho Sam,’ a deranged hermit who spends much of his time disguised as a bush. Rachel House also shines as child services official Paula, determined to find Ricky and throw him back into care.
Okay, the film isn’t perfect – you can’t help wondering how Ricky can spend five months in the outback, living only on what he and Hec can forage, without losing so much as a pound in weight, for example – but the New Zealand locations are absolutely ravishing and there’s no denying that the tale is enough to reel you in and keep you hooked right up until the epilogue. Waititi’s decision to present the film as a series of chapters is also a nice touch. If you’re looking for something different from the usual Hollywood fare, this is a sure bet and the 12A rating means it’s suitable for family viewing.