Hunt for the Wilderpeople 
A Review By Ben Hunter
3½ Out Of 5 Stars 


A little too on the nose at times.   


13 year old Ricky is in the system of New Zealand.  He’s jumped around from foster home to foster home and everyone who works with him has lost hope. No family will take him in, his spirit is broken, so with nothing to properly construct his path, he acts out.  He’s demurred, deconstructed, defaced, demoralized, and destroyed just about everything in his path.  So on course to his last and final miracle, he meets Bella and Hec (Sam Neill) who child services prays will be lenient and basically gives Ricky over.  Hec is a defeated man, depressed, a small record, and illiterate.  But he loves Bella, and they have a happy home, welcoming poor Ricky with open arms to their rural abode.  

Tragically, mother nature brings cold and distant Hec to poor defeated Ricky who is starting to warm up due to Bella’s love.  But cinematic conflict has to take place.  So with word from child services who will soon pick up Ricky, as they, including Hec, all know he shouldn’t be raising an adolescent, Ricky runs away.  Accidentally burning down the barn adjacent to the house, and getting lost in the process.  Hec easily finds Ricky and twists his ankle in frustrated pursuit of the insubordinate teenager.  Ricky doesn’t know where he is, Hec can’t move, they have to stay in the woods and camp out for awhile until Hec is mobile again.  

Ricky (Julian Dennison) & Hec (Sam Neill), the center of the hunt for the wilder people. 
Cinema conflict has to take place yet again and they can’t make it back to the house before child services arrive to interpose the aforementioned arrangement.  So they arrive and see the burnt down barn.  They suspect something is wrong.  Something such as the mentally unfit to look after a youngster, Hec, has abducted Ricky.  While out, the odd couple comes across some hunters in the woods.  Cinema conflict conveniently shows up again and Ricky inadvertently gives the impression that Hec is molesting him.  Thus ruining their use of a cottage equipped with supplies and food, all perfectly on que.  But nicely conveying that Hec is just a broken man, who hasn’t lost his sense of responsibility and who looks out for Ricky.  Even if it is just to get him back to child services so he can finally be alone.  
So the word is out now, and the odd couple knows it.  They know the situation, but the world thinks differently.  They’re not going to go in quietly and accept the label they’ve been given.  And so it begins.  The hunt … for the wilder … people.  

Man oh man, you just got to love that cinema conflict, right on que.  At each major point, there she was, reminding us of the meeting that was had amongst the writers and producers of this film.  A little too much textbook fashion with its plot points, a little too much on the nose in its dissection of the narrative.  As a screenwriter I cringed a little at times as to how direct it was.  “Oh wait, they can’t get along with people they meet along the way such as right here, otherwise the story would be over.  So they have to shake things up and not get along with these people who could easily make a simple phone call and corroborate their story and end the movie right here.”  But, director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) has to stretch this out for at least the bare minimum, an hour and a half.  They’re on the run and don’t want to take being labeled the bad things, yada yada yada.  Insert my line with the look of disappointment right here when at this point I sighed, “Man, I had such high hopes for this one”.  

Ricky, the rebellious teenager trying to find his belonging in the wilderness of life.  
With a near perfect score from my fellow critics, a director with an upcoming film the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Thor: Ragnarok), a small, indie, artsy flick, that’s under the radar, it has my name written all over it.  But because something looks good on paper doesn’t mean it will perfectly work out.  I remember debating with a fellow actor about Atonement (2007), using this same argument.  Just because that’s what the movie is all about and it looks good on paper, doesn’t mean it’s going to work out as such on the screen.  Just because on paper we have to move the story along at particular points with Ricky & Hec in a certain direction, doesn’t mean it’s going to work out as such on the screen.  
So the wilder people wander quite nicely in the wilderness of the white page.  But like poor little Ricky, they need to learn the lessons of growth and development of a fully blossomed adult out in the real wilderness of the movie screen.  As my college Spanish professor would always say, “You always get an E for effort”.  

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) 
Adventure/Comedy, 101 Minutes, PG-13
Based on the Book by: Barry Crump
Screenplay by: Taika Waititi 
Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata

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