HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE – Moniker
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the latest film from Kiwi writer-director Taika Waititi, who enjoyed popular success with his previous films Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, and is now hard at work on his latest film, the marvel super hero sequel Thor Ragnarok. Based on the iconic 1986 book ‘Wild Pork and Watercress’ by bestselling New Zealand author Barry Crump, the film stars young Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker, a rebellious and delinquent teenage boy who has bounced around from foster home to foster home in New Zealand’s social services system, and has now found himself placed at a rural farm belonging to the kindly Bella (Rima te Wiata) and her grizzled, crotchety husband Hec (Sam Neill). Ricky, who is sarcastic and defiant and fancies himself as a gangster rapper, is initially reluctant to embrace his new life on the edge of the wilderness, but soon finds himself becoming happy in his new home. However, a tragic event forces Ricky and Hec to flee from the farm and into the bush, where Hec’s survival skills allow them to remain safe, despite Ricky’s near-constant complaining. Unfortunately, the police mistakenly believe that Hec – who has a mysterious past – has kidnapped Ricky, and soon the pair are on the lam, running from the authorities who don’t understand that the unlikely pair are changing each other for the better.
The film is an absolute delight, with a smart screenplay that balances Ricky’s bad-mouthed banter with moments of genuine emotion and pathos. The unlikely relationship between Ricky and Hec is captured perfectly by Julian Dennison and Sam Neill, as mis-matched a pair as one could possibly imagine, but whose developing relationship eventually brings out the best in both of them. It’s an especially star-making turn for Dennison, whose rotund frame and thick New Zealand accent doesn’t affect his self-confidence, his comedic timing, or his perfect portrayal of a modern city kid having to deal with nature for the first time. It’s also a very beautiful film, capturing the glory of New Zealand’s lush countryside; apparently there are also several in-jokes specifically for antipodean audiences, ranging from celebrity cameos to allusions to popular TV commercials, which will unfortunately go over the head of anyone outside the country.
The score for Hunt for the Wilderpeople is by the New Zealand-based band Moniker, comprising composer/musicians Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde, who met and collaborated previously as members of another band called The Phoenix Foundation. Much like the film itself, the score is an eclectic mixed bag of sources and influences, mostly 1980s electronic scoring that intentionally channels artists like Tangerine Dream and Jan Hammer, but interspersed with a number of original songs that veer from upbeat and infectious to dreamy and contemplative. I’ll start by saying, right from the outset, that this is an unusual score. It could almost be seen as a cousin to one of 2016’s other more distinctive scores, Swiss Army Man, in that it uses a highly specific sound to capture the essence of the film, in ways which might not make sense to anyone who hasn’t seen it.
The best score track, for me, is the opening one, “Makutekahu,” a wonderful amalgam that blends electronic synth textures, chimes, and percussive rhythmic ideas with classical-sounding chanting voices, featuring layered lyrics in both Latin and a Maori dialect, and an overall ambience that sounds like medieval plainsong mixed with Celtic influences. The track plays over the opening scene, a majestic vista of the New Zealand countryside, and is superbly effective at setting a dramatic scene.
The rest of the score wholly embraces the electronic sounds of the 1980s, clearly a stylistic choice to acknowledge the time period where the original novel took place. There is a current vogue for nostalgic musical throwbacks to that era, especially where electronic music is concerned, and Moniker’s efforts here allow them to join that growing list of artists who have successfully and authentically recaptured the sound of the period. Where Moniker succeeds even further is in the way the music actually has something to say; each track has a unique twist that makes it interesting, either through a melody or a rhythmic idea or a specific sample, which keeps the score sounding fresh and engaging, especially for those who already have an affinity for the music of the period.
Several cues stand out. “Ricky Runs” is built around a bed of Tangerine Dream-esque electronic pulses, augmented by a rock drum kit to give it a moody, urban groove. “Cloak of the Sky” showcases watery, undulating textures that are both pretty and mysterious and remind me of parts of Giorgio Moroder’s score for The Neverending Story, especially the scenes relating to the Childlike Empress; similar sounds evoke similar emotions in later cues like “Ricky Alone,” “Ancient Stones,” the free-flowing and euphoric “Horseriding,” and others. “Hunting/Raindrops” features some unusual Asian influences, and what sounds like a sampled didgeridoo, as well as actual sounds of nature (birds, frogs, insects) combined with bubbling electronic pulses.
“Kahu’s House” is an oddball, abstract and experimental, bringing together sinuous metallic and wooden textures against some peculiar rhythmic ideas that are certainly creative, if a little weird. “Forest Spirit” is more serious, with dynamic and repetitively hypnotic pulses, and an unexpected jazz/blues vibe in the synth pianos towards the end. “Majestical” appears to me to be a clear Jerry Goldsmith homage, making use of the wet, fat synth sounds Goldsmith used to depict the goblins in his score for Legend. “Crumpy,” which partially underscores the film’s climactic Mad Max-esque car chase across a dry plain, has an upbeat pop style, with electric guitars and hand claps to drive along its funky groove. The conclusive “Sycamore” is warmly nostalgic, with more traditional-sounding sampled pianos that allow the relationship between Ricky and Hec to reach its natural, non-mawkish, but emotionally satisfying conclusion.
The original songs are all of high quality, and blend seamlessly with the overall tone and feel of the rest of the score. The first, “Ricky Baker Birthday Song,” sounds utterly terrible when you first hear it – it is performed on-screen and in-character by actors Rima Te Wiata and Julian Dennison, neither of whom can sing, and is accompanied by a cheap keyboard – but it has a real poignancy in context when you realize it represents the first time in Ricky’s life that anyone has cared enough to sing to him on his birthday. “Ocean Blue” and “Are You Lost” play underneath two of the film’s cleverly structured montage sequences. The former clearly has its roots in those cheesy 1980s cool-wave songs, with wannabe poetic lyrics and ultra-sensitive vocal delivery, and is ridiculously authentic, but I’m not ashamed to admit I love it , and would have undoubtedly listened to it on the radio back in the day. The latter sounds like the result of an old country artist discovering keyboards and samples; it has definite western inflections, with whistles and hums, slide guitars, and faraway voices, like a lonesome cowboy plodding across the prairie.
Later, “Milestone 2 (Skux Life)” plays under the second half of the climactic car chase, and is a superb parody of those 1980s synth-rock songs which blended keyboards with electric guitars. The song cleverly uses several of Ricky’s catchphrases (“majestical,” “we are the wilderpeople,” “skux life,” and so on) as its lyrics, while the dreamy vocal delivery sadly realizes that Ricky’s adventures are finally coming to an end. The final song, “Trifecta (Ricky Baker Song),” is a fully realized, longer version of Ricky Baker Birthday Song performed by the band over the end credits.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is not going to be a score for everyone. The intentional throwback to 1980s synth scoring, despite being another example of the current film music zeitgeist celebrating that sound, is likely to alienate those who didn’t especially care for it the first time around, while those who did embrace the original sound might feel as though Moniker’s subversion of the genre is inauthentic at best, sarcastic at worst. When you combine this with the abundance of similarly nostalgia-soaked songs, you have a soundtrack that is doing its best to emulate a period in film music history that many people look back on with less than positive feelings. Personally, however, I think the whole thing is a triumph: it works magnificently in the film, subtly making fun of itself while still providing the right emotional hooks for the narrative, and it’s musically creative enough to be stimulating on an intellectual level. Although I saw the film Boy, which they also scored, this is the first music I’ve ever heard music from Moniker on its own terms, and on the strength of Hunt for the Wilderpeople I’ll certainly be seeking out more.
Buy the Hunt for the Wilderpeople soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Makutekahu (2:09)
- Ricky Runs (1:45)
- Cloak of the Sky (2:58)
- Ricky Baker Birthday Song (written by Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde, performed by Rima Te Wiata and Julian Dennison) (0:50)
- Tupac (0:58)
- Ricky Alone (1:09)
- Ocean Blue (written by Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde, performed by Moniker) (2:25)
- All the Nummiest Treats (1:35)
- Hunting/Raindrops (2:37)
- Are You Lost? (written by Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde, performed by Moniker) (2:53)
- Ancient Stones (1:10)
- Horseriding (1:26)
- Kahu’s House (2:43)
- Forest Spirit (4:13)
- Majestical (2:51)
- Crumpy (1:26)
- Milestone 2 (Skux Life) (written by Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde, performed by Moniker) (2:56)
- Sycamore (1:56)
- Trifecta [Ricky Baker Song] (written by Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde, performed by Moniker) (2:52)
Running Time: 40 minutes 52 seconds
The Orchard (2016)
Music composed by Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde. Performed by Moniker. Orchestrations by XXX. Recorded and mixed by XXX. Edited by XXX. Album produced by Moniker.