Anti-hunters and news media have been having a field day with the killing of “Cecil the Lion.” Hunting badly needs some heroes who are visible to mainstream audiences. As if an answer to hunters’ prayers, now showing in theaters across America is a New Zealand film, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” It has drawn more at the New Zealand box office than “The Avengers,” any “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games,” and it’s still showing in NZ theaters.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is based on the 1986 novel Wild Pork and Watercress by the late New Zealand writer Barry Crump. Director Taika Waititi, who wrote the script, refers to the film, made over five weeks last winter, as “’The Revenant’ with no money.” (The total production budget was $2.5 million, which is coffee money compared to big tent pole features.)
The film begins as chunky defiant city kid “Ricky” (Julian Dennison), raised on hip-hop and foster care, gets a fresh start in the country with his new foster family: the loving “Aunt Bella,” the cantankerous “Uncle Hec” (Sam Neill) and a dog, Tupac. When a tragedy strikes that threatens to force Ricky to move to another foster home, Ricky and Hec escape to the wilds of New Zealand, where they survive eating wild game. As a national manhunt ensues, the newly branded outlaws face their options: go out in a blaze of glory or overcome their differences and survive as a family.
The movie is equal parts road comedy and rousing adventure story; director Taika Waititi masterfully tells a hilarious, touching story. Hunting plays an important role in this film. Uncle Hec first appears carrying a wild boar that he has shot for dinner. Later, as Ricky and Hec flee into the wilderness they must bag wild game for food. (To ensure there was no problem with the American Humane Association, which monitors films to ensure that “no animals were harmed in the making of this movie,” New Zealand hunters donated wild game they bagged for use in the film.)
This 101-minute minute film started its U.S. tour with two standing ovations at the Sundance Film Festival. It has been reviewed positively by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and many other TV and newspaper critics. Rotten Tomatoes reports 100 percent of 66 critics liked it, and 92 percent of the audience did also. Rotten Tomatoes concludes: “The charmingly offbeat ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ unites a solid cast, a talented filmmaker, and a poignant, funny, deeply affecting message.” The gun handling at times is a little wild, but otherwise this is real bullseye.
The film opened in five theaters in the States on June 24. The U.S. domestic total as of Aug. 7 has grown to $3.5 million. In Australia, the box office so far is nearly $8 million, and the worldwide box office is over $20 million.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic elements including violent content and for some language.”