Dose of realism in Wilderpeople

Sam Neill plays a reluctant father figure in Hunt For The Wilderpeople.
Sam Neill plays a reluctant father figure in Hunt For The Wilderpeople. PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR

Actor Sam Neill reckons the depiction of rural New Zealand in his new movie, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, is realistic.

"You will come across people who live very humbly. If they can kill the odd wild pig, that's a good supplement to their well-being," he says.

The comedy-drama has plenty of forests and farms. Neill is Hec, a taciturn farmhand whose partner Bella (Rima Te Wiata) foists foster son Ricky (Julian Dennison) on him.

A series of mishaps later, the troubled city kid and the flinty Hec are forced to flee into the forest. The odd couple have to overcome their differences to survive, while evading a national manhunt. The film is showing at The Projector.

Speaking to The Straits Times from "the red heart of Australia" where he is on location, the 69-year-old actor says the spectacular natural scenery around the fugitive pair is all real.

"The filming was pretty raw most of the time. If you see snow, that's real snow - we didn't have the budget for fake snow. What you see is what you get," he says.

Hec is a reluctant father figure and is a part not too far off from the gruff palaeontologist Dr Alan Grant Neill played in perhaps his most famous movie, Jurassic Park (1993).

The actor thinks that men such as Hec can easily be found in the countryside. "Most of the people in the film live on the fringe of society. Many people do in New Zealand. My character and Ricky the kid are kind of marginalised. There are people who live in the bush and make lives for themselves," he says.

The film's low-key comic tone is almost entirely due to the effort of writer-director Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows, 2014), says Neill.

Waititi adapted the 1986 book, Wild Pork And Watercress, by New Zealand writer Barry Crump, for the film. "It's quite a serious book. Waititi leavened it with a particular sort of New Zealand humour... We are a dry, laconic people," he says.

Neill has a home in Queenstown, in South Island, where he owns the Two Paddocks winery and lives with his wife, make-up artist Noriko Watanabe, and their three children.

In New Zealand, the film's NZ$12- million (S$12-million) box-office haul has set a record for a domestically made product. Overseas, it has won awards at festivals in Edinburgh, Galway and San Francisco, in addition to receiving praise from critics after a screening at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Its international acclaim comes despite the story's specific references to television, commercials and old movies from Neill's home country.

"We didn't know how international audiences would respond to it, it's so Australasian in character. But it's transcended boundaries. At Sundance, they loved it," he says.

Its popularity proves that understated comedies from the Southern hemisphere can travel.

"The last thing we wanted to make was something sickly and sentimental and that's why the film is the way it is."

• Hunt For The Wilderpeople is showing at The Projector, Level 5 Golden Mile Tower, 6001 Beach Road. For bookings and schedule, go to theprojector.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Dose of realism in Wilderpeople'. Print Edition | Subscribe