Hunt for the Wilderpeople (New Zealand)

Taj Bates

"Find water. Go to higher ground. And don't get naked."

As human beings, we often long for what we don't have; and take for granted the things we so easily do.

A child in the foster care system longs for safety, stability, belonging. Unconditional love and family.

No matter how tough s/he may seem, deep down that is what every child wants and needs.

Ricky Baker is one such child. He has been adrift in the welfare system his entire life, mooring from one foster home to the next, never for very long.

With militaristic fervor, his social worker describes him as a "bad egg" who has thrown stuff, kicked stuff and set fire to stuff.

To her, he's a menace to society. But anyone with a heart for kids can easily see he's just a lost and misguided preteen in desperate need of love and attention.

At the start of the film, Ricky is seated in the back of a police car. His face glum. Lips, defiant. Body, rotund.

He is being exiled to the middle of nowhere, to a foster couple moored on a farm in the rolling green hills of New Zealand's gorgeous countryside.

Bella Faulkner, the XX half of the couple, welcomes Ricky with open arms and a cheerful heart. Her husband, Hector (played by Sam Neill), however, is gruff and brusque, a bush man (hunter and wilderness survivalist) who wants nothing to do with the boy.

The Faulkner farm is so isolated that, in theory, it should be impossible for Ricky to wreck much in the way of havoc.

But the best laid plans of men and social workers often go awry. And, boy do things go awry in this film, in fun and delightful ways.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a perfect movie.

I do not say that lightly. Very few films in this modern age of ours come close to this distinction.

Five minutes in, I was laughing out loud. And 15 minutes in, my heart was melting.

It was written and directed by Taika Waititi (pictured below), who is masterful at both. You may recognize his comedic style and penchant for '80s synth from Thor: Ragnorak, which he directed after Wilderpeople.

Wilderpeople is a far superior film in every way.

Perhaps because Waititi felt the weight of his countrymen's expectations on his slender shoulders.

The film is based on the beloved novel, Wild Pork and Watercress, which was a bestseller in New Zealand back in the 1980s. Its author, Barry Crump, was a national celebrity in his day, known for his prowess as a bush man.

Waititi had a larger-than-life author, and nostalgic expectations, to live up to, but instead of faltering under the pressure, he forged a diamond instead.

A cinematic gem that is a lovely homage to the country of Waititi's birth—from the Kiwi actors who were all so perfectly cast...

To the comedy of errors that could totally happen in this small and largely rural country....

To the wild and beautiful vistas of New Zealand, which are as lovely to behold on the silver screen as they are in person.

IQ Tip!

Don't watch the film trailer beforehand. I didn't, and am glad of it. The trailer gives away way too much. The less you know going in, the more fun you'll have watching it!

Available on Hulu (as of May 2018)

Runtime: 1 hour 41 minutes

Rated: PG13

Released: 2016