Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a street kid who is taken to a foster home in the country. There he is looked after by Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and more reluctantly by Hec (Sam Neill). When Ricky’s living circumstances change he decides to go on the run with Hec. This leads to a national manhunt that plays out across the media.
Writer director Taika Waititi has adapted Barry Crump’s book Wild Pork and Watercress into a crowd-pleasing comedy adventure. Ricky Baker is called a “bad egg” by Paula (Rachel House), the severe social worker who delivers him to Bella and Hec’s farm, however he is anything but. He is a mischievous kid who has problems with authority, but he is also a dreamer in search of a home. Bella’s attitude is straightforward TLC. Hec would rather not deal with the boy, but eventually he is forced to pay proper attention to this noisy intrusion into his quiet life. When Hec and Ricky eventually go bush, the story clips along and keeps the audience continually engaged.
Dennison and Neill have great comedic chemistry and discovering what they’ll do next is one of the delights of the picture. They are ably supported by a strong cast of New Zealand players. Rhys Darby, well-known to Australian audiences as Murray from Flight of the Conchords, does an appropriately over-the-top turn as paranoid loner Psycho Sam. Rima Te Wiata is winning as the understanding and eccentric Bella. You may remember her from her years in Sons and Daughters or the comedy sketch series Full Frontal. Rachel House’s tenacious social worker is a memorable comic creation. Here “across the ditch” we saw her most recently in the Bondi Hipsters’ series Soul Mates and as Ruth in the Wolf Creek TV series. Her sidekick Andy is played by Oscar Kightley, whom Aussies might know from the TV mini-series Harry or the movie SIONE’s WEDDING (2005) and its sequel.
Taika Waititi received strong notices for his movies BOY (2010) and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014). He has been chosen to direct Marvel’s upcoming THOR: RAGNAROK. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE is an entertaining addition to this director’s varied and unusual body of work.
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE is funny, heart-felt and will keep you hooked from start to finish. 101 minutes. (8/10)
INTERVIEW: listen to Darran’s interview with Taika Waititi here.