In our current climate of isolation and restriction, a film about escaping into the open wilderness and seeking adventure in the freedom of the great outdoors is more compelling than ever. What you may not have imagined is the unlikely pairing of a thirteen-year-old orphan and his reluctant foster father, leading a national manhunt through the depths of New Zealand’s wilderness. Herein lies the beauty of Taika Waititi’s breakout film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which follows teenager, Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a troubled kid bounced from foster home to foster home until he lands on the doorstep of the down-to-earth Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her reclusive husband, Hector (Sam Neill).
From the moment Ricky arrives on the farm, he is determined to make his escape, but the good humour and kindness of Bella makes sticking around seem a less daunting prospect than first thought. What ensues is the heart-warming development of some semblance of a family between this unlikely trio, anchored in a mutual understanding of what it means to be an outcast. Throw in some eccentric humour, unconventional hunting practices, and a feel-good birthday song and it appears that Ricky has finally found a place to call his home.
When tragedy strikes, however, Ricky leaves the farm in a blaze of glory accompanied by his boisterous dog Tupac (because what else would a hip-hop loving kid call a dog?), determined to avoid his life being uprooted once again. Unbeknownst to Ricky, Hec is hot on his heels, and when reunited, the duo set about evading capture by surly welfare officer, Paula (Rachel House) and her bumbling offsider, Andy (Oscar Kightley).
As with all great adventures, success is in the planning, so it’s no surprise that Ricky and Hec find themselves in their fair share of trouble. From injuries to navigation errors, the pair are forced to place their trust in each other as they face the challenges of the wilderness, put aside their differences, and begin to form an unshakable alliance. Safe to say 2020 has given a whole new appreciation to Ricky’s obsession with toilet paper!
Then there comes the problem of food. As Aunty Bella so aptly describes Ricky’s appetite upon his arrival, he’s a kid that loves to eat. Unfortunately, despite his charm and self-proclaimed ‘skuxx’ status, Ricky lacks the physical prowess of a wilderness warrior and returns from his ‘hunting’ expedition virtually empty-handed. Arriving back to camp and the disapproving Hector, the scene looks like it could end in hunger for all concerned, but thankfully Hec produces an (initially terrifying) freshwater eel, coming to the rescue once again. All they’re missing is a delicious wasabi mayo and some lemon juice to do the smoked eel justice, but with the help of SBS Food, you don’t have to miss out! Check out this delicious recipe for a Smoked Eel Sandwich that will take your taste buds on their own adventure.
Waititi’s ability to blend emotional resonance with the downright ridiculous gets to the heart of what it truly means to belong, and when paired with this seriously scrumptious toastie, makes for a night in that will feed your soul and warm your heart.
Watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople on SBS World Movies Friday 25 December at 7:30PM (and available at SBS On Demand after broadcast until 24 January 2021)
Make the meal