A run-away orphan is pursued in a nationwide manhunt by Child Services. [ Hunt for the Wilderpeople credits: Dir: Taika Waititi/ Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House / 101 min/ Comedy, Adventure/ Individualism, Abuse of power]
As the film opens, an orphan boy is just being delivered to his quirky new foster family — a down-to-earth couple eking out a crude existence deep in the rugged New Zealand countryside. It seems they are the only ones who will take him; it’s his last chance at having a real home.
Happily, he gradually bonds with his new family, but in an unexpected turn of events the State suddenly wants him back. That may mean ending up in years of detention, as a past series of minor infractions have made him ineligible for further chances at foster care. So, he makes a run for it into the “bush,” New Zealand’s uninhabited and inhospitable outback. Authorities react with a nationwide manhunt of wildly disproportionate character.
All that sounds serious — and indeed there are moments of drama and tragedy (this is not a film for little kids) — but for the most part the telling is decidedly comic. Part of the humor here is that his past misdemeanors are treated with absurd weight by authorities, which gives the film a subtle libertarian undercurrent throughout. Ordinary people are reasonable, caring, and sympathetic to this boy who says he just wants to be free; the State, ever-eager to use its powers of force, is not.
It’s easy to see why this movie has been such a hit. In the generously-filmed lush New Zealand wilderness, amidst these quirky characters, you feel at times transported to a different place. The script is well-written, and many of the performances are outstanding.
My favorite character is the Child Services agent, played by Rachel House. She is the embodiment of authoritarianism. You get the gist of her personality in an early scene. As she begins the hunt for the orphan boy, she reaches down and wipes with her hand the soil on the ground where he has recently been, smells it as though to follow his scent, and says with malevolence and determination the words “Where are you Ricky Baker?”
But the spell of her self-importance is broken when a more easy-going policeman standing next to her comments dryly “You can’t really follow people by their smell,” and the audience erupts in laughter. That in a nutshell is Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
“[It’s] is a delightfully bone-dry comedy from Taika Waititi and Sam Neill, celebrating Kiwi libertarianism.”
—Den of Geek
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a hoot with heart.”
“A lop-sided gem with real emotion.”
“It may even be the most libertarian film New Zealand has produced.”
—The New Zealand Initiative