Rebellious teenage orphan Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is shipped off to live with a foster family in the New Zealand countryside. Unhappy with his new surroundings, he attempts to run away and hide in the unforgiving wilderness. His reluctant caretaker Hector (Sam Neill) eventually finds him, and the unlikely duo survive in the harsh terrain as a nationwide manhunt is launched to find them.
Chalk this one down to not living in one of the big cities. I missed it the first time around, then it left, and then it came back. I definitely wasn’t going to let it get away from me again. No, I haven’t seen What We Do in the Shadows but I am familiar with director Taika Waititi and his quirky brand of comedy. I was considering doing a mashup with What We Do in the Shadows but “What We Do in the Shadows is Hunt For The Wilderpeople” is quite a long title. The trailer was funny and showcased the beautiful New Zealand landscape.
Ricky Baker (Dennison) is an orphan born on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. In order to try to straighten him out, he is sent to live with a foster family living in the New Zealand countryside. This comes as a big culture shock for him. It’s probably easy to guess what happens next but it’s better than that. Once he learns more about his foster parents, Hector (Neil) and Bella (Rima Te Wiata), and the area, he is persuaded to stay. After a freak tragedy, Ricky is now forced to leave his new foster home. In revolt, he runs away into the wilderness, getting lost and eventually being found by Hector.
Hounding them was Ricky’s over-the-top social worker Paula (Rachel House). She had taken great offense to Ricky’s unwillingness to leave and had made it her mission to get him back. She went to great lengths for this mission which led to some funny moments of her own as she seemed to take it more seriously than everybody else. Of course things escalated with Ricky and Hector becoming fugitives and the whole nation looking for them. Ricky doesn’t want to go back to the city so he and Hector hide together in the wilderness to avoid capture by Paula and the authorities. The two must move around, trying to survive by living off the land, running into countless quirky people along the way.
What was noticeable early on was the contrast between Hector and Ricky. Hector knows how to survive and live off the land and Ricky does not. Watching Ricky learn to survive was fun because since he was so likeable, it was easy to get invested in him. Hector wasn’t much of a fan of Ricky to start off with but over time grew closer to him as he started to break down his own walls. Their chemistry made them dynamite together as the film did a good job at playing with the generational gap between the two. Over that time, Ricky kind of rubbed onto Hector which led to some amazing exchanges with dialogue coming from the smart and funny script.
Again, the film was a great showcase of New Zealand and its wilderness. This led to some amazing shots of the countless trees and mountains and such. This was just a very beautiful film to look at. This also made it so the film never got boring as there was always something to look at. While the film is mostly Ricky and Hector, there was still a lot more on here as the story had a surprising amount of depth to it. This was a coming of age story for Ricky but it also was for Hector in a way.
The acting here was excellent with Dennison and Neil carrying the film. Dennison stole a lot of scenes, often looming above the more experienced Neil. His charisma made him very believable in the role as the street kid. His screen presence and likability allowed him to stand out in many scenes. Neil was just as good as well as the grumpy Hector. He fit the part perfectly. All the people they met along the way were pretty much caricatures but their quirkiness was very endearing.
Overall, this was a beautiful, fun film with a great story and led by excellent performances by Dennison and Neil.