Judge Kristin Munson looks at a fictional account of a real life tragedy.
The true story of a small town massacre.
Eighteen years ago, New Zealand was rocked when the rural town of Aramoana became the site of a spree killing; the first the country had experienced since the 1940s. Far from being a blood-soaked tabloid re-creation, Out of the Blue is a meticulously researched and quietly affecting account of a local tragedy.
Facts of the Case
On November 12, 1990, something inside David Gray snapped. The eccentric recluse picked up a gun from his stockpile of semi-automatic rifles and started shooting. After setting fire to his first victim's home, he took aim at anyone who stopped to help. For the next 22 hours, the tiny harbor community of Aramoana was terrorized by someone who wasn't a stranger or an escaped lunatic but their own neighbor.
Just because the cover for Out of the Blue gives the name of the killer and a timeframe for the rampage doesn't make it any easier to watch. The first killing is so sudden and matter-of-fact that it's as big a jolt as Jason bursting out of Crystal Lake.
Part of that shock comes from the laid-back set-up leading up to the first gunshots. A lot of time is spent establishing the different town folk going about their lives with no idea of what's coming. The growing pangs of a blended family; a spat between neighbors about loud music; a family fishing trip; dull everyday stuff that goes on while we wait and squirm, hoping our favorites make it out all right.
Nothing has to be added to make a story like this more affecting and Co-writer/Director Robert Sarkies know it. He doesn't show a lot of blood or wring each death for every ounce of emotional impact it's worth. Instead, the actual killing is distant or implied, and the realism somehow makes it more horrible. Just a few "pops," and a living, breathing person we've come to know has ceased to exist.
Out of the Blue is about the victims, the survivors, and even the killer, as human beings rather than characters. Nick Harvey (Karl Urban, Pathfinder), a cop who would normally be the big hero in an action flick (complete with a Hot Fuzz moustache), fails to kill Gray or save a wounded victim, but he does keep a girl conscious until they can reach an ambulance. There are many of these quiet moments of heroism—like when a pair of locals bring a blanket and pillow to an injured man lying in the road before going to find their own kids in the chaos—and they're more satisfying than any third-act shoot-out.
David Gray is portrayed by Matthew Sunderland(Cleopatra 2525) as a paranoid boy in a man's body, who builds model tanks and puts on warpaint like he's playing commando instead of going on a rampage. It's implied that Gray is mentally ill, but the script doesn't use that to excuse his behavior, just to explain the randomness of it. He's not bogeyman to be feared or a rebel to be admired, but a sad, screwed-up man.
For extras, there are three six-minute featurettes, one about the movie and two on the actual massacre, and in excerpts from audition tapes, actors share their personal memories of Aramoana. The photo gallery is also dedicated to the real tragedy—apart from some snaps of the reconstruction of the two main houses, the rest are crime-scene photos of Gray's real crib and the survivors. Those photos, along with news footage of locations and victims, reveal the painstaking eye for detail the production unit had. Characters wear the same outfits, houses are painted the same colors, even the same panes of glass are broken out of windows.
On the commentary, Robert Sarkies is paired with Bill O'Brien, who not only authored the non-fiction account the movie was based on but was an on-duty officer during the massacre. They obviously care more about the victims than blowing their own horns, spending most of the track filling in information gaps and pointing out the few changes between the movie and real-life, with only a little production info.
Despite the low-budget, the film quality is astonishing. I could find no defects with the anamorphic transfer and the digital effects blend in seamlessly, especially a nighttime shot of the beautiful harbor, with only a tiny flicker of orange to indicate the horror transpiring below. The 5.1 track is a little quiet and unnecessary since there's almost no score; once the shooting starts, the panicked breathing and the crackle of flames are the only soundtrack needed.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The production is an absolute slave to the truth, which makes for an admirable but lightweight movie. Apart from a few directorial flourishes, the writers aren't trying to say anything beyond the facts of Aramoana.
If this were fiction, the paranoid outsider obsessed with guns going kill crazy would be cliché and some of the scenes, although completely factual, feel like bad Hollywood. When a character declares how happy they are with their life, you immediately know who the first victim is going to be.
Out of the Blue is a little-known piece of criminal history delivered in a respectful and informative package. It's hard to watch but not so brutal that you have to turn away.
If you were raised on a steady diet of slasher flicks and stacks of Fangoria, then the movie isn't going to make you bat an eyelash. Check your cinematic expectations at door and just watch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Commentary by director Robert Sarkies and Bill 0'Brien
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