Hunt for the Wilderpeople Parent Review
A foster kid and his reluctant care-giver find a familial bond in this quirky Kiwi movie that infuses its story with humor and charm.
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) has been in and out of trouble as often as he’s been in and out of foster homes. After calling him a “bad egg,” his Child Services Officer Paula (Rachel House) tells the gangster-wannabe in no uncertain terms that Bella and Hector Faulkner (Rima Te Wiata and Sam Neill) are his last option. They are a childless couple living in rural New Zealand, far away from the city streets the unwanted child is used to.
The new home gets off to a rough start as the rebellious thirteen-year-old tests Bella’s warm acceptance and Heck’s cold tolerance. Despite his professed toughness, the rotund youth also finds country living requires greater grit than he’s got – especially after he witnesses the slaughtering of a wild pig (which includes a lot of blood) and is asked to clean dead animals. Then, just about the time Ricky settles into the place, the authorities decide to move him to a different location. Unwilling to accept their decision, Ricky runs away – but not before burning down the Faulkner’s barn.
It is a reluctant Heck who dutifully comes to his rescue. Knowing full well the urban dweller won’t be able to survive in the wild, the experienced outdoorsman tracks him down intending to return him to Paula. However, an accident leaves Heck with a broken leg and dependent on Ricky to fend for him until he is strong enough to hike back to civilization. When they return six weeks later, the pair discovers they are at the center of a national manhunt. Misinterpreting the situation, the government believes Ricky has been kidnaped by Heck, whom they suspect is mentally unstable and possibly dangerous. When some innocent remarks made by Ricky are misunderstood as well, child molester is added to the list. Rather than face the accusations Heck decides to run – and Ricky happily follows.
Most of the movie follows the fugitives as they hide in the rugged New Zealand bush, where Ricky learns survival skills like camping and hunting game, and occasionally steals necessities such as shoes and toilet paper. Comparing their long trek to that of the African wildebeests, Ricky gives them the nickname of “wilderpeople.” As the pair face off against man, nature and untamed animals, Heck develops a fatherly concern for the boy. These feelings of affection help the older man work through some of the hurt and grief of his own past.
Unfortunately, the film presents a few content issues of which parents will want to be aware. There is a lot of profanity used in this script, along with sexual finger gestures and words that sound like a strong sexual expletive. Both Heck and Bella smoke. And evading the police is portrayed as fun and adventurous. Fist-fights, gun use and car chases are part of this depiction. Authority figures are shown in an unfavorable light too – especially the Child Services Officer who oversteps her legal boundaries and uses derogatory names and verbal threats in an attempt to subdue Ricky. This, coupled with the recounting of the tragic mistreatment and death of one of the boy’s fellow foster friends, says nothing kind about the care of abandoned children.
In the end, Ricky and Heck face consequences for their reckless behavior. Whether or not that redeems their misdemeanors will likely be a matter of opinion. Personally, I found positive growth in both the young and old offender. Although it takes a while, they eventually stop fleeing and start confronting their fears. Discovering they have more in common than they realized, the two share each other’s sorrows and form a familial bond. This relationship, along with the quirky Kiwi humor, infuses the story with a lot of charm. Somehow that helped me forgive the characters of their foibles during thier hunt to find themselves.Directed by Taika Waititi . Starring Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata. Running time: 101 minutes. Updated September 29, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Hunt for the Wilderpeople here.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople Parents Guide
In what ways are both Heck and Ricky “strays”? How does Bella’s acceptance of each of them encourage feelings of self-worth? What eventually helps the man and boy see the good in each other that Bella was much quicker to observe?
Why is a desire for family such a universal yearning? How do feelings of abandonment affect the characters here? In what ways do their experiences help them fill that void? In what other ways might Heck and Ricky have found healing?
Why do Heck and Ricky run away from the accusations made against each of them, instead of facing them? What consequences might they have confronted if they had turned themselves in? What consequences do they meet because they don’t? What can you learn from their example?