Out Of The Blue (2006)
First posted on MyMavra
On November 13, 1990, in the isolated town of Aramoana, New Zealand, loner David Gray gunned down 13 of his neighbours without reason or warning. Based on the book of the tragedy, ‘Aramoana’ by Bill O’Brien, Out Of The Blue plots an unflinching yet respectful path through the inconceivable 22 hours of that terrible day, calling on eye witness accounts and survivor experience to coach the mainly unknown cast (to me anyway) to tread sensitively through some raw memories.
Director Rob Sarkies presents his film as it happened. He doesn’t try to funk up the ordinary and the mundane for the sake of the modern ADD generation. Kind of like, say, in Apollo 13 (a mission anything but mundane and probably a poor choice for comparison, sorry); despite the crew remaining professional throughout the mission, in the movie they are depicted blaming each other for the malfunction. Ron Howard decided that we, the audience wouldn’t accept that these men didn’t argue under such stressful conditions. So he made up a scene, needlessly. Neither does Sarkies resort to sensationalism; when you see Gray (Matt Sunderland) walk into a gun shop on the day of the massacre one wonders if that really happened or whether it’s merely there to place a big flashing neon sign over his head – ‘Bad Guy, Boo Now.’ But he did indeed go into a gun shop that morning and order a rifle, a ‘papoose’ and considering the devastating array of firearms already at his disposal, an odd choice. It calls into question whether his rampage was premeditated. Clearly, he expected to take delivery of the rifle somewhere down the line. Alternatively, perhaps the purchase made him feel relevant, connected to society again in some way. In control.
The film doesn’t even judge Gray. There are hints; kids on the local school bus laughing at him wobbling along on his bicycle; a tantrum when he is asked to pay a banking charge. The screenplay hesitantly probes for reasons without resorting to a plethora of evil glances and mannerisms. Oh, he’s ‘off’ all right, but Sunderland injects a degree of lonely sadness into his performance, sometimes child-like fear. There is even a scene near the end of the siege where Gray breaks down. It’s not made clear whether this is through guilt at his actions or sorrow for the general course of his life. Either way it’s a scene that can never be corroborated. If there is one sequence that drifts over the line it is the one where, before he finally snaps, Gray is depicted lining up a rifle sight on passers-by. It feels forced, clumsy even compared to the rest of the film. We get it, we know what’s coming. I just think they should’ve held off putting a gun in his hand till he started shooting. And when he does start, it’s the surreal mood swings that haunt – one second gunning down a random bloke, the very next turning to contemplate his yard, maybe wondering if he should get the lawn mower out or start on the weeding…
When the police eventually move in it’s a nightmare scenario. Darkness has fallen. They don’t know where Gray is or just how serious the situation has become. They are under-trained and under-equipped and this bloke could be anywhere waiting to ambush them. The police, and us as an audience, are never quite sure of Gray’s whereabouts once he has slipped away from his crib. You know he’s close, but not how close. Is he still in the field or has he gone back to the crib? Sarkies keeps us on our toes, having Gray traipsing through back yards, trying to gain entry to homes while intercutting images of terrified individuals trapped inside. Is he at their door? The cops are led by Stu Guthrie (William Kircher) and following him are Nick Harvey (Karl Urban) and Paul Knox (Paul Glover), among several others. Urban impresses as the copper torn up by the carnage he finds and a split second decision that passes him by… An AICN talkbacker recently questioned if Urban possessed the “humanity” to play Star Trek’s ‘Bones’ in the new movie incarnation. Had he/she first watched Urban’s performance in Out Of The Blue they would have seen their question answered emphatically.
There are several stand-out moments. Following his aforementioned bank tantrum, Gray storms along the street, a self-contained whirlwind of fury, the low angle camera like a child being dragged along by an infuriated parent; the cops in silhouette against the backdrop of a burning building; Nick’s return to the roadblock, after the silence and tension to be overwhelmed by the noise and lights, vehicles, voices and rushing people…; Gray seeking refuge in a house to rest – he turns out the light and in the darkness you just see the tiny flare of his cigarette. My favourite moment though, is when Nick is racing away from the scene in a car, quietly talking to a young victim. This is intercut with Gray somewhere outside and seemingly hearing and reacting to Nick’s voice. It’s a moment of abstract genius. And in the same sequence, though Nick is the focus of the scene, note should taken of Paul Knox in the foreground dealing with his own understated heartbreak.
I also like the way shots of the changing tides are used to depict the passage of time. One could also say that cinematographer Greig Fraser’s camera simply has to look away from the horror, to wonder how any of this could be happening against the tranquil beauty of the surrounding scenery. Also, those with a pathological hatred of ‘shaky-cam’ – you have been warned, but it’s necessary to portray the fear and confusion. Then there is Victoria Kelly’s piano-led score which doesn’t so much reflect the horror, but mourns the loss, minimal and moving.
Out Of The Blue is a very good film. Considering the subject matter it is also oddly peaceful. And Gray? He’s not a monster, just a bloke who wants to be left alone – perhaps because he knows instinctively that his fuse has burned all the way down. Maybe that was his way of protecting the townsfolk, by isolating himself. And maybe I’m over-analysing. Maybe he was just a nut. It’s a question you’ll chew on, for a few days at least.
ThereWolf – March 2009