It’s 6 o’clock Saturday 11th June 2016. I’ve exited the Event Cinemas in George Street Sydney. I’m sitting on a step scribbling furiously as people pass me by, lights and shadows draping me briefly. I’m too immersed in what I’m doing to notice much else.
I’ve just seen Hunt For The Wilder People, the New Zealand smash-hit, apparently seen by one-in-nine Kiwis, though not yet as many people living on the West Island (Australia, in case you’re wondering).
It’s the story of an incorrigible orphaned boy Ricky (played by Julian Dennison). As a last resort, he is sent to the final foster parents in the middle of nowhere by Child Services. Totally unimpressed, Ricky tries to return to Child Services but once settled at home promptly runs away. After being found again (and again), he slowly acclimatises to his new environment, and starts to bond with his foster mother Bella (played by Rima Te Wiata). However, he develops a tenuous and stand-offish relationship with her cantankerous partner Hec (Sam Neill) who really would rather be left alone.
Sadly, tragically, Bella collapses and dies. With only Hec left, Child Services informs them that they will now take Ricky back. That’s enough for Ricky to go bush for good. Once Hec realises the situation, he searches for and finds Ricky but is injured in the pursuit.
Unfortunately, Paula from Child Services (No Child Left Behind, No Child Left Behind is her mantra), arrives on the now deserted farm. With no Ricky or Hec, she calls in the real police and starts a manhunt.
Directed by Taika Watiti, (director of Boy) who has an amusing and disturbing cameo as a pastor, this film showcases the scenery of New Zealand (the opening is like a travelogue) but lets the story unfold itself at its own pace. Through crisis, contemplation and humour, we see the relationship between Ricky and Hec develop even if they are complete opposites. In their continuing adventures, Ricky learns bushcraft, bravery and brashly defies Paula from Child Services when she nearly catches him again. As the manhunt becomes national news, they’re left to the encroaching winter, the not-so-stealthy efforts of the pursuing Special Forces and the police. Although I did experience deja vu having watched Sam Neill in much the same situation in Sleeping Dogs!
Luckily, the Hunt for the Wilder People has a more humourous and happy outcome even if Ricky and Hec do end up confronting the New Zealand Army on its home turf. And Julian Dennison steals the film.
This is a wonderfully told story, with many laughs and some sadness too. And a cast whose enjoyment in making this movie shines through! Go see it and enjoy.