Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016): ‘Up’ Meets ‘The Fugitive’ (Review)

Adapted from Barry Crump’s 1997 book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Taika Waititi (Boy, Green Lantern), who not only wrote the screenplay but directed the feature as well, The Hunt of the Wilderpeople is a funny and touching “buddy film” between two generations and races. The film is, in essence, Disney’s  Up meets The Fugitive, meets Thelma and Louise and is quite easily the best film of 2016.

Ricki (Julian Dennison) is a 12 year old Maori boy who has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. Finally, he is sent to live with Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband Hec (Sam Neill). His new home is right near the Bush and it seems, at long last, that Ricki has found his place in life.

Unfortunately fate has other plans as Bella dies right after Ricki’s 13th birthday. Ricki wants to stay with the curmudgeonly, and illiterate, Hec but Child Services agent Paula (Rachel House) is determined to find the young juvenile delinquent a new home.

Hec and Ricki go on the run. The unlikely duo lead the police on a merry chase through the New Zealand bush and the film follows their adventures and their bonding process.

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is, quite simply, the best film to come out of 2016. Sadly, as it is a “foreign film” it cannot compete for the category of Best Movie when the Oscars roll around. Regardless of this fact, the film should pull in best film in the World Cinema category.

At first glance, Waititi, who has a cameo role as the minister, has given us a splendid buddy film where two similar but different characters learn from one another as they flee the authorities. Delving deeper, however, reveals a coming of age film as well.

In the film, Ricki is not the only person who grows,  his “uncle” Hec also changes from a monosyllabic grumpy loner to a caring parent to a boy who has, until now, identified more with the “gangster” life than that of a “normal” child.

Not having read the book that the film is based upon, it is not clear whether the elements from the Disney film are there or not.  There are direct correlations between the two movies though.

Hec, taking the part of Carl Fredericksen, is lumbered with Ricki, who is the Russell in this scenario. Hec loses his wife, like Carl, and he too is reluctant, initially, to travel with Ricki (Russell.)

There is a rare bird in both films, although in Waititi’s film the creature is not a form of comic relief, and the two males bond through their experiences out in the bush (jungle).

While there are many parallels between the two films, Waititi, or Crump, have also interwoven the Child Services Agency official Paula;  a comic Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), into this tale. 

Despite her cry of “No child left behind,” Paula really seems to have it in for Ricki, who she describes as a delinquent. Every time the official talks about the Maori boy she references his crimes and not his many foster home moves.

The chase scenes in the film almost seem to be a nod to the climatic end of Thelma and Louise but the last minute dodge by Ricki, who drives the get away vehicle could be lifted from Kim Jee-Woon’s 2009  The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

Waititi makes the most of his material and gives us, as well as the nods and winks to other films, a nigh on perfect film.  It is comedy with a touch of pathos and at least two scenes where tissues are required to stem the unexpected flow of tears. Ricki’s constant quest for toilet paper is very funny.

The director also manages to produce more laughs per square inch of film than any other movie on offer in 2016.

Neill and Dennison have a brilliant onscreen chemistry and together they are beyond brilliant. House is spot on as the OTT officer who chases the two men across the country. Te Wiata is excellent as the loving and slightly eccentric Bella and the whole cast bring something to the table in this New Zealand offering.

The scenery is breathtaking, as it would be, this is, after all, where The Lord of the Rings was filmed. (One comic moment has Ricki alluding to the film.) Cinematographer Lachlan Milne makes every frame count.

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople has a message that equates to love being the answer to helping kids on the wrong path to get straight. Whether this is true or not, it should be, and by the end of the film, we believe it.

This is a full 5 star film.  It may sound somewhat trite and be a bit of a cliche, but  Hunt for the Wilderpeople hits every single mark. It will make you laugh, think and cry.

Taika Waititi has given us an example of New Zealand cinema at its finest, do not miss this one.

Backtrack (2015): Sixth Sense in the Outback (Review)

Adrien Brody in Backtrack

Backtrack is a splendid combination of horror and mystery. Set in Australia it deals with death, memories and how some things refuse to be forgotten. In some ways it could be seen as  The Sixth Sense in the outback. There are, however, many other films that contribute to this intriguing story and at least one book. (It had overtures of The Survivor by  the late James Herbert.) At least one sound effect came from Takashi Shimizu‘s The Grudge and it scared just as effectively  in this  film as the one  it originated in. 

Written and directed by Michael Petroni (The Rite, Queen of the Damned) Backtrack is first and foremost a mystery.  Starring Adrien BrodySam Neill and Robin McLeavy the film slips the horror in where it fits. Sometimes resulting in a good old “jump scare” and other times leaving the viewer disturbed and not a little creeped out. 

Before singing Brody’s praises (he does a marvelously understated Aussie accent that is spot on) let us look at McLeavy.  This actress is no stranger to the horror genre. Her second feature length film was the brilliantly brutal and quirky The Loved Ones (2009). She was also in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which really is rather schlocky compared to this offering) and while she “plays it straight” here she does her usual excellent job of selling her role.

McLeavy plays the local “PC Plod” who Brody’s character confesses to in the film.   Robin is completely believable as the rather serious cop who has little patience for what she sees as messing about.

Brody’s character is a psychologist who has had more than his fair share of tragedy.  His daughter is struck by a truck and killed while they are out together. Before that though, some of  his past is so awful that he has “mis-remembered” it.

A young girl shows up in his office and the mute child silently asks for his help.  This triggers events that begin to veer into the supernatural, or even paranormal, and Peter Bower (Adrien) is determined to get to the bottom of this issue.

Brody is so convincing with his subdued Aussie accent that if one had never seen him in anything else they would assume he came from the land down under.  The Oscar winning actor shows just why he won that little gold man in this film.  His suffering and fear are apparent but never over the top. The actor is just brilliantly spot on whatever the emotion.

Sam Neill plays a psychiatrist who is treating Peter and once again this Irish actor performs his magic on screen. Neill and Brody interact beautifully together and it helps to move the story on very well.

In terms of story to avoid spoilers the plot  cannot be described in too much detail. There is a daughter’s death,  a 20 year old train wreck and childhood secrets that have been forgotten over time. These secrets manifest themselves in many ways and ultimately it seems that they have been altered with time.

Director Petroni moves things along at an almost leisurely pace but never quite eases up on the tension. There are no false scares here.  Petroni wants us uneasy and slightly afraid in varying degrees.  Once the first reveal is made things pick up nicely and the horrible secret of Peter’s childhood does appear.

Once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, one can look back on the film and with a little help from Petroni it becomes clear that all has been signposted from frame one.

Backtrack is a 5 star film.  It may be slowly paced but the scares work well and the childhood revisit is both horrifying and tragic.  Airing on Netflix at the moment, this is a great find. Check it out and see what you think.

Irresistible (2006): Poetic Paranoia

Written and directed by Ann Turner and starring Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill and Emily BluntIrresistible is a brilliant little psychological thriller. All the actors play their respective roles with conviction and help move the film along at a cracking pace.

The film deals with issues of obsession, paranoia, guilt, and abandonment. Shot on what appears to be a rather small budget, the film doesn’t suffer too badly from the lack of monetary backing. Although there is one ‘CG’ moment with wasps in a garden ornament that suffers badly from the ‘limited’ budget.

That one moment small moment of CG imagery gone wrong is not enough to upset the flow of the film.  While watching it, my daughter and I continually changed our minds about what was really happening to the main protagonist. Sarandon gives a brilliant performance as the beleaguered heroine of the film; not surprising as she worked with writer/director Ann Turner on ‘fine-tuning’ the script for six months prior to filming.

The movie begins with Sophie Hartley (Sarandon) playfully interacting with her two daughters, Ellie and Ruby (Joanna Hunt-Prokhovnik,  Lauren Mikkor), as they walk home from school. Sophie suddenly remembers that she left the iron on and they all run home. Entering the house and rushing to the room where the iron is, Sophie is surprised to see the iron off and the cord neatly wrapped around the  handle. Picking the iron up, she wets the end of her finger and touches the surface. Contact with the iron proves that it is still red hot.

It is with this jarring moment that the film really starts. As events move forward, it appears that Sophie is either going crazy or becoming paranoid and at the start of the film it felt that things could even be heading towards a supernatural influence.

Sophie is a highly visible Children’s Illustrator and she has the awards to testify to her talent. She is working on a venture that has been suggested by her editor. A group of well known Illustrator’s have been tasked to illustrate their darkest personal moment. It is this project that is causing Sophie a lot of stress. This combined with her mother’s recent death results in insomnia and the artist’s version of ‘writer’s block.’

It is also her anniversary and husband Craig (Sam Neill) sends a musical trio of  girls to deliver a huge bouquet of flowers to Sophie showing that, before he even enters the film properly,  he is very much in love with his wife. In a prelude of things to come Ellie loses her favourite toy, Ruby loses a game and Sophie’s scrapbook pictures are being moved as well as missing.

While all this is going on, she has to attend a work’s party put on by her husband’s ‘assistant’ Mara (Emily Blunt). While at the party, Mara takes sole possession of Sophie and seems very attracted to her and appears to be forming an unhealthy attachment. She can’t stop touching Sophie and she plies her with drink. At the end of the party Sophie is quite intoxicated and one of Craig’s other co-workers tell Sophie that people think she is an alcoholic.

Understandably upset at this information she gets into a little spat with Craig as they leave the party. Sophie notices that Mara is staring at them from a first floor balcony. As they drive off, Mara continues to stare.

Things start spinning out of control from that point on. Sophie is caught trespassing in Mara’s house and a restraining order is placed on her forbidding any contact with Mara. She is now suffering from exhaustion and unable to sleep, drops off while working and has disturbing and frightening dreams.

I really cannot write anything else about the plot of the film without revealing  a lot of mega-spoilers. This film had me and my daughter second guessing right up until the last frame.  It is a brilliant blend of mystery, thriller and drama. There are moments in the film where you revert to child-hood and want to shout at the characters on-screen while simultaneously cringing at their actions.

I really need to say how well the two ‘child’ actors did in their roles as Ellie and Ruby. Both girls gave a perfectly believable performance. I’m sure that these two will be doing a lot more as they get older. Their contribution to the film helped to build the film’s believability factor a lot.

The devices that Turner uses in the film to create tension, suspense and mystery are not of the usual types  normally found  in films like this. She has taken  ‘everyday’ occurrences and twisted them to create an atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion that drives the film forward and makes us, the audience, suspect everyone and everything.

I don’t know how well this film was received or whether it was even released theatrically, but it is a real corker of a movie.

It’s on Netflixat the moment, so don’t hesitate to watch this film.

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Event Horizon (1997) A Haunted House in Space

Film poster for Event Horizon. Copyright 1997,...

Helmed by the English director Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, AVP: Alien vs Predator, Death Race) Event Horizon is a nightmare inducing ride through a celestial  haunted house.

Amazingly this ‘space screamer’ was penned by Philip Eisner after he initially ‘pitched’ the idea to the studio money men on a film he referred to as “The Shining in space.” He was given the go ahead, although he had not written one word on a plot. It turned out incredibly well, despite it’s ‘shaky start.’

Blessed with an amazing cast: Laurence FishburneSam NeillKathleen Quinlan,  Joely RichardsonJason Isaacs, and my personal favourite Sean Pertwee and a good multi-written script, the film has no problem selling us the idea of a haunted spaceship. Although, I personally would have loved to see the original 130 minute film before Anderson had to trim twenty minutes of the more spectacular violence out.

The “Reader’s Digest” version of the plot is as follows:

It is 2047.  The crew of the ‘Lewis and Clark’ have been tasked to answer a distress beacon that seems to be coming from another ship, the ‘Event Horizon’ that vanished seven years preciously.  A scientist, Dr Weir, has been tasked to join the crew because he was the man who was behind the technology of the Event Horizon.

The crew find out that the Event Horizon was capable of creating it’s own black hole. This black hole would enable the ship to travel to the furthest reaches of space. Unfortunately, the first time that Event Horizon used the black hole device, the entire ship and it’s crew vanished. The distress beacon indicates that the Event Horizon has re-appeared.

When the crew find the Horizon and board it, they find out that the distress beacon was actually a warning. They also find a ships video log and have to fix it so they can see what happened prior to the ships disappearance. While the crew and Dr Weir are trying to piece together what happened and the status of the Horizon, they all start experiencing things. They soon find out the wherever the Horizon went, the furthest reaches of space was not where it wound up. The ship has returned and brought something terrible with it.

This film can almost literally scare the crap out of you. Taking metaphorical pages from Solaris, Legend of Hell House, and yes, even The Shining the film works incredibly well. Even though there are a few blaring plot holes (and to be fair these seem to be the result of the studio enforced editing of some of the gorier scenes to lower the film rating) and the ‘dating’ of some of the FX, the film still has the ability to creep around in your head long after you’ve watched it.