Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.
As we gear up for Canada’s premiere genre celebration Fantasia International Film Festival, one of our favorite fests, we’re spotlighting some of our favorite FIFF titles from years past. For our first entry in this series, we’ve selected Taika Waititi’s delightful adventure Hunt for The Wilderpeople!
By his own admission, Waititi never set out to be a filmmaker. The acclaimed writer/director and master of deadpan absurdism spent his early days in his native New Zealand pursuing just about every form of artistic expression and performance besides filmmaking before he began trying to his hand at directing short films. This quickly led to an Oscar-nomination (for the short film Two Cars, One Night) which then led to a string of successful films, including low-budget efforts like Boy and What We Do in the Shadows and the Hollywood productions of Thor: Ragnarok and the Oscar-winning JoJo Rabbit.
Perched directly at the intersection of home-spun indie and crowd-pleasing populist fare is The Hunt for the Wilderpeople. With a tone that zips wildly back and forth from absurdist silliness to heart-wrenching reality, Wilderpeople is perhaps the best demonstration of the distinct voice and perspective that Waititi brings to each movie.
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is an orphaned delinquent who, as the film begins, is brought to live with big-hearted Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her cantankerous husband Hector ‘Hec’ Faulkner (a grizzled Sam Neill). Bella is warned by Paula (Rachel House, Moana’s grandma) that Ricky is a ‘bad egg’ who will almost certainly bring destruction and chaos to the remote farm where she and Hec live.
But Bella believes in the boy, patiently reaching out to the goofy sweetheart she knows is buried beneath his disaffected poses. And miracle of miracles, she starts breaking through Ricky’s defenses. He truly begins to come into his own, and together they start to develop a maternal bond.
Then tragedy strikes and Ricky is left alone with Hec, who has no desire to play parent to this child. Ricky promptly flees into the nearby wilds, accompanied by his dog, Tupac, and then even more promptly gets lost. Hec sets out to rescue the boy, but through a chain of mistakes Paula and the authorities come to believe that Hec has abducted Ricky for some unspeakable end.
Soon Hec and Ricky are forced to flee deeper into the bush, sparking off a cross-country adventure that spirals more and more out of control until both man and boy have become legendary outlaws.
Inspired by Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump (a hugely popular writer in New Zealand), Hunt for the Wilderpeople was an immediate critical darling and popular success when it came out in 2016.
Waititi’s budgets and scales have increased exponentially since then, but let’s set aside Asgard for the moment and return once more into the seemingly-endless wilds of New Zealand and see if we can’t catch ourselves a brace of wilderpeople. — Brendan
Next Week’s Pick:
From Finland comes Heavy Trip, a heavy metal road trip metal comedy that proved a big fan favorite at Fantasia 2018, about an small-town never-was garage metal band that makes the trek to Finland to crash a massive festival and make themselves known. Available streaming on Amazon Prime! — Austin
Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co anytime before midnight on Thursday!
Rima Te Wiata’s performance as Bella Faulkner is the core of Hunt for the Wilderpeople that everything else emanates from. A weaker movie would take the role she plays in the story and be lazy about it. It’d be simple to make the tragedy of her death that she was so saintly and perfect that Ricky instantly connected. Waititi’s script here is smart enough to make her notably imperfect (making a fat joke the first thing you say to the kid you just adopted isn’t the brightest move.) But it’s through her actions in the first portion of the movie that demonstrate what made her the person Ricky needed. Whether showing him how to shoot, sharing her beliefs about the afterlife, or playing that delightfully off-key birthday song, she never makes Ricky feel like he doesn’t have a choice in the matter (“Have some breakfast then you can run away.”)
She knew from the start that Ricky would need to make the choice to accept this new home and family. The ways she connects with him probably aren’t dissimilar from how her and Hector started their relationship. Since he was similarly troubled before they met. It’s why she calls their family a trifecta in her song. They’re all people who had no one else in a society that left them feeling like they had no choice in how they could live.
Something that hadn’t clicked on my previous viewings of Wilderpeople is how the sermon given by Taika Waititi’s cameo as the minister at Bella’s funeral fits the themes of the movie. What’s sticks out to me now is the line “sometimes in life it seems like there’s no way out.” Because without Bella that’s where both Ricky and Hector are left, both planning to disappear from a world that doesn’t have anyone or anything left for them. Their trek while being hunted down by the police through the bush ends up being their journey to find in each other and themselves what Bella saw in them that was worthy of love. (@WC_Wit)
In this unofficial sequel to Jurassic Park, an older, grumpier Dr. Alan Grant — now going by the name Hector, due to some time in prison — has finally escaped children once and for all by running to the wilderness and living amongst the land and the wild animals… until Julian comes and ruins his serenity. While this may not be the actual plot, it’s hard not to notice much of Grant’s character in Hector, both played by the incredible and unmatchable Sam Neill. Along with Julian Dennison’s Ricky Baker, Neill’s Hector is key to the emotional core of this laugh out loud adventure.
I fell in love with this film when I reviewed it as part of our 2016 Fantasia Festival coverage and have watched it several times since. With a host of great side characters, a breakout performance from Julian Dennison, and Taika Watiti’s remarkable sense of wit (that many of us has yet to discover back in 2016) — The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is such a blast. Thanks to the Two Cents crew for a great excuse to rewatch this gem.
And, for what it’s worth, I’m naming my next dog Psycho, Megatron, or Tupac. (@thepaintedman)
While I have enjoyed every one of Taika Waititi’s films that I’ve seen and consider him one of the most important figures in popular cinema these days, Hunt for the Wilderpeople remains my favorite of anything he’s made.
It’s the one where the tonal balance is exactly right, throwing out absurd jokes fast and furious while also sparing time to linger in sequences of loss and melancholy to truly allow you to feel the pathos the characters are experiencing.
Sam Neill is a key part in that balance, somehow nailing the difficult juggling act of being a believable rugged hardass, and being a ridiculous straight-man to the wacky antics of Dennison as Ricky Baker, and also selling the hell out of the bruised, weary heart of Hec. Neill makes it all seem as easy as breathing, and the rest of the film follows ably in the trail he sets. (@TheTrueBrendanF)
While I have yet to catch up on some of Taika’s earlier pictures, I’m in love with every film he’s made since What We Do in the Shadows, making him one of my favorite active filmmakers. His films are a concoction of whimsy, adventure, humor, and heart, and nowhere is this truer than Wilderpeople.
Taika’s doing well in Hollywood, afforded budgets that can take us to Nazi Germany or the far reaches of the Nine Realms, but I enjoy the rustic local color of his NZ films, which add specific (and authentic) texture to his style.
Fan favorite Sam Neill is the perfect actor to bring life to the gruff but endearing Hec — as Justin points out, he’s already trod similar ground as Alan “Babies Smell” Grant, but I love seeing him act on his home turf in a character that has shades of the real Sam, who is, like Hec, an outdoorsman and farmer.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an adventure, but one marked by grief, loss, and healing, bonding two characters, initially at odds, over that shared loss. It’s not the first Taika movie I’ll casually throw on anytime (Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit get MUCH PLAY in la Casa Vashaw), but I have a lot of love for it. (@VforVashaw)
Next week’s pick: