Welcome to Hidden Gem, a new SIN column where each week we will take a closer look at a book, album, show, or film that has managed to slip past the general cultural radar.
To start, we’re kicking the column off with a review of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the new film by Academy Award-nominated director Taika Waititi, who is also directing the third entry of Marvel’s Thor franchise, Thor: Ragnarok, set for release next year.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople opened to rave reviews, yet despite achieving a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and becoming the highest grossing indie film in its native New Zealand, it has largely been ignored here in Ireland.
In my eyes that is very much a mistake, as this is a little firecracker of a film. Combine the slapstick of the cult American classic Little Miss Sunshine with an added dose of dry humour and action and you should get an idea of the DNA that makes up Hunt for the WIlderpeople, based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump.
The film follows Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a troubled young city kid who is sent by child welfare to live in the countryside with kind foster mother Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her grumpy husband, Uncle Hector (Sam Neill). When Bella dies unexpectedly, Ricky opts to venture into the bush rather than be taken back to a care home. Hector is injured chasing after him, and when child welfare officer Paula (Rachel House) finds the barn burnt down and the pair missing, Hec and Ricky are forced to form an unlikely duo as a national manhunt is launched to hunt the pair through the bush.
Neill takes to the role of the gruff and cantankerous Hector with ease, but it is Dennison and House who get to have the most fun with their roles with Ricky and Paula getting the meat of the film’s most memorable scenes, including a hilariously awkward television interview with Paula and an encounter between the two that morphs from a tense moment to the equivalent of a playground argument within moments. Rima Te Wiata makes her brief screen-time as Bella count, and the audience, much like Ricky and Hector, will spend the film dealing with her loss.
Watiti, as director, proves his previous credentials are well deserved. He deftly manages to balance the film’s disparate elements into a cohesive whole, smartly dividing the film’s 101 minute runtime into chapters. This allows him to focus on different moods and settings along Ricky and Hector’s journey, with the comedic and serious elements all getting their moment in the sun, while also managing to showcase New Zealand’s dynamic landscape of forest and mountain ranges. Although the film begins to lose steam three – quarters of the way in, it is rescued by an excellent final sequence which stays true to the film’s comedic yet poignant spirit.
So grab your popcorn and grab your mates, because this hidden gem is one that most definitely deserves to be discovered.
-By Fiach Mac Fhionnlaoich