Hunt for the Wilder People is one of the latest films written and directed by Taika Waititi and based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. The film follows Ricky Baker, a 13 year old foster kid in New Zealand who is sent to live in the country with Bella and Hector. After Bella’s sudden death, Ricky runs away to escape being sent back to state care and Hector follows to try and get him back. An accident leaves the two stranded in the bush for a few weeks and when child services finds an empty house and burned down barn, they suspect the worst and a national manhunt ensues.
This film is the second of Taika Waititi’s work that I’ve seen – the first being What We Do In the Shadows. While the two films are different in genres, it’s easy to see the touches that Waititi brings both behind the camera and to the script. With Hunt for the Wilder People, there are quieter comedic moments (although I could have done without the fat jokes), just as there are moments of sorrow and grief. That balance allows for many of the characters to be fully developed without limiting them to easy cliches. As Manohla Dargis writes:
Mr. Waititi’s expansive sense of human beings in “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” allows his characters to endure loss and hardship without forcing them to be wholly limited by their suffering, as marginalized people too often are in fiction. They’re romantic and pragmatic, eccentric and utterly ordinary. They’re also reasonably flawed, as is this movie, but Mr. Waititi transcends most of the narrative bumps and generally dodges the obvious land mines, including cuteness.
Everything about Hunt of the Wilder People seems like it would scream cliche but in reality, so much of the film seems to a slight jab at those same cliches. It’s quirky and weird but all together real.
Throughout the film, there are beautiful shots of the New Zealand landscape. Shots from above the forest and mountains help set up the fact that the two main characters could be on the run for so long without running into any people while also providing some passage of time. The soundtrack to this film is just as amazing – much of it throws back to the 1980s, with a very happy techno sound. My favorite song (and favorite scene) has to be “Ricky Baker’s Birthday Song”.
Overall, I really can’t overstate how much I enjoyed Hunt for the Wilder People. Taika Waititi took what could have been an incredibly predictable cliche and spun it just a bit to give the story a bit of humor and honesty. The actors bring to life these characters that are witty, flawed, caring, and often mean well. Everything from the panning shots of the New Zealand bush to the music to the outfits bring together a movie that’s just a little bit different. And yes, like with most things, there are flaws and mistakes in the movie. But overall, it’s a really amazing film.