Hunt for the Wilderpeople - review

by David Larsen / 31 March, 2016
This Kiwi odd-couple tale is designed to charm both here and overseas, and it certainly deserves to.

Read more: An interview with Hunt for the Wilderpeople star Sam Neill.

In 2010, Taika Waititi’s Boy opened in the United States and grossed $US256,000. Translation: in a country of 300 million, maybe 30,000 people paid to see it. For comparison, the New Zealand gross was about $NZ9 million. This remains the most any film has ever made here.

In 2014, Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows opened in the United States and grossed around $US3.5 million. The New Zealand gross was much smaller, and this is where you have to start sifting the brute numbers, because Boy is a sweet-souled comedy-drama, and Shadows is a blood-vomiting horror-comedy, a genre for which there is a much smaller natural audience. (The other great horror-comedy of the last five years, Cabin in the Woods, wasn’t even put on general release here, on the theory that the returns would not justify the costs.)

So Shadows did good local box office. But in the States, it exploded: it made Waititi’s name. (We know because — should we recoil or rejoice? — he’s been hired by Marvel to direct the next Thor movie.)

The six-million-dollar question: why did Boy take off here but not overseas? One possible answer arrives three shots into the new Waititi comedy-drama, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which, like Boy, is about a severely underprivileged Maori boy and his not entirely adequate father figure. The film opens with a spectacular, gliding aerial shot of the New Zealand bush. (Barry Crump’s 1986 novel Wild Pork and Watercress, Waititi’s source material, is set in the Ureweras, directly inland from the East Cape setting of Boy, which happens to be where Waititi grew up; in the film, the bush setting goes unnamed.)
Oh, great. Waititi has gone international. Will there be subtitles to help with the New Zild accents?

Second shot: a police car is driving towards us along a metal road, deep in the bush. Third shot: close-up on a shoulder patch: POLICE. Because overseas audiences, of course, won’t recognise a New Zealand police car. Oh, great. Waititi has gone international. Will there be subtitles to help with the New Zild accents?

No… but this is definitely the comedy you make if you want American audiences to keep up: polysyllabic Maori place names absent, culturally specific dialogue likewise. Ricky Baker (the highly likeable Julian Dennison), our 13-year-old protagonist, is a street-smart runaway who speaks fluent gangsta; he and the grim-faced social worker who pursues him after he and his reluctant adopted uncle go bush (a phrase which does not appear in the film either) have a hilariously deadpan exchange about which of them is more like the Terminator.

But then there’s Hec, Ricky’s adopted uncle, an instantly recognisable Kiwi cultural icon who says nothing American audiences will have trouble with because he hardly speaks at all. Hec is our über-laconic, Barry Crump stand-in figure, an ageing and badly battered good keen bushman, and he’s played by Sam Neill, giving his best performance since 2008’s Dean Spanley.

So: a broadly generic odd-couple story, with a Maori character who dresses and talks like an American street kid, plus a deeply Kiwi-specific cultural icon played by our most internationally recognisable actor, who just happened to spend most of Jurassic Park grumpily trekking through the back-country with unwanted children for company.

It’s a very shrewd way of serving local audiences and international ones equally well. Only Kiwis will get the full range of Waititi’s in-jokes, which run to a marvellous John Campbell cameo and a glancing reference to the old Barry Crump Toyota ads. But if this delightful, warm-hearted film doesn’t play equally as well overseas as here, I’ll be amazed.

This article was first published in the April 2016 issue of Metro, on sale now.

Read more: An interview with Hunt for the Wilderpeople star Sam Neill.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Greens, Labour and NZ First need to talk coalition - James Shaw
80506 2017-09-25 07:07:30Z Politics

Greens, Labour and NZ First need to talk coalition…

by Mei Heron

Green Party leader James Shaw will push hard to be involved with any negotiations between Labour and New Zealand First.

Read more
After the election campaign highs, Winston Peters brings the buzz-kill
80500 2017-09-25 06:31:24Z Politics

After the election campaign highs, Winston Peters …

by Bevan Rapson

Could the kingmaker climb down from his high horse, please?

Read more
Young Kiwi filmmakers seek a chance for silent fame
79698 2017-09-25 00:00:00Z Movies

Young Kiwi filmmakers seek a chance for silent fam…

by Luke Jackson

The countdown is on for young Kiwi filmmakers to score their three minutes of fame.

Read more
How the media oversold standing desks as a fix for inactivity at work
80380 2017-09-25 00:00:00Z Health

How the media oversold standing desks as a fix for…

by The Conversation

When the world's first guidelines about sitting and moving at work were published, they created a media storm. But here's what was missed in the hype.

Read more
Does processed meat cause cancer?
80255 2017-09-25 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Does processed meat cause cancer?

by Jennifer Bowden

The finger is pointing at processed meats as a cause of cancer, but small-goods makers aren’t convinced.

Read more
This post-election business is anything but usual
80491 2017-09-24 09:10:53Z Politics

This post-election business is anything but usual

by Jane Clifton

For the first time in our 21 year MMP history, the prospect of the party with the biggest vote not forming the Government doesn't seem unconscionable.

Read more
Election 2017: How the battleground seats fell
80489 2017-09-24 08:21:45Z Politics

Election 2017: How the battleground seats fell

by RNZ

As predicted there were some tough battles in key electorate seats. Here's how the the votes fell yesterday.

Read more
Labour's Greg O'Connor on Ōhāriu: 'Every little thing got you over the line'
80486 2017-09-24 07:55:24Z Politics

Labour's Greg O'Connor on Ōhāriu: 'Every little th…

by Jacob McSweeny

Barring a huge turnaround in the special votes, Labour's Greg O'Connor is the new Ōhāriu MP - with a 679-vote majority at this point.

Read more