Out of the Blue

English Title: Out of the Blue

Country of Origin: New Zealand

Studio: Condor Films Limited

Director: Robert Sarkies

Producer(s): Steven O'Meagher, Tim White

Screenplay: Graeme Tetley, Robert Sarkies

Cinematographer: Greig Fraser

Art Director: David Kolff, Ken Turner

Editor: Annie Collins

Runtime: 103 minutes

Genre: Drama

Language: English

Starring/Cast: William Kircher, Lois Lawn, Matthew Sutherland, Karl Urban, Tandi Wright

Year: 2006

Volume: Australasian

Out of the Blue is based on historical events which took place in the far south of New Zealand in Aramoana, a Dunedin seaside suburb. The film opens on a montage depicting a typical early summer’s morning as the small community wakes and begins its regular routines of preparing for work and getting children off to school. Unfortunately for many in this mixed group of workers, pensioners and alternative lifestylers, this is the day when the fragile mental stability of disturbed Aramoana loner David Gray cracks apart violently and tragically. Gray’s annoyance at children crossing his land quickly escalates into his killing twelve members of the tiny community, along with a local police officer responding to calls for assistance. The death toll is increased by Gray’s arsenal of assault rifles and his readiness to use them. During his rampage, Gray indiscriminately shoots adult men, women and children. The film follows the fates of these victims and other people either wounded or trapped in their homes awaiting help. Local cop Nick Harvey leads attempts to rescue casualties and to restrict Gray’s movements and further threat. The next morning Gray confronts special tactics police and they shoot him fatally.

On the 13 November 1990, 33-year-old David Gray shot and killed 13 people (including police officer Stu Guthrie) in the tiny seaside settlement of Aramoana. This event was the biggest mass murder in New Zealand’s history. The film’s storyline is compressed into approximately 24 hours, beginning with one sunrise and ending on the morning of the following day. Apart from a couple of brief flashbacks to earlier police visits to Gray’s crib (small beach cottage), the plot is entirely chronological.

Aramoana is an untidy, sloppy, hippie-style community. Coastal landscapes and limpid, placid scenes are stressed early on to indicate the peace before the storm. There is a deliberate low-key tone and a restrained, semi-documentary feel to the whole film. A lack of clear photographic focus and shallow depth of field are used to simulate the eccentric and socially-awkward Gray’s eyesight problems and his being cut off from world. His subjective world is one of intrusive noise such as radio static and paranoid delusions.

The tragedy itself begins at the end of the school day, which is quickly evoked in poignant vignettes. A neighbour is shot first because his kids cut through Gray’s yard, which he protects with boundary stones, but other people remain oblivious to what has happened. Now Gray is on a rampage: an old man and people passing in a truck are shot dead. In line with the film’s spirit of realism, no one seems to think to phone the police and an old lady named Helen is the only help to any of the wounded, despite being effectively semi-crippled. Gray puts on camouflage-style blackface paint below his woollen beanie.

Around dusk, Sgt Guthrie from the Port Chalmers police station and a younger officer named Nick attend. Nick serves as the film’s normal’ person (a surrogate for the audience) who shows human reactions to horrific events. After nightfall, Nick hesitates to shoot Gray, even though he sees him with Stu Guthrie’s pistol and knows Gray must have killed him. The film methodically follows the police procedures without any attempt at sensationalism. They search Gray’s crib while night seascapes show the besieged hamlet, as phones ring in empty houses. Nick, finally able to go home, cries after watching his own child Jordan sleeping. All these scenes are effectively understated.

It is morning again. Similar long shots to the opening show another ironically-brilliant, beautiful day. Gray hides in another crib and sets up mattresses as defences. He wipes his face clean as he stares in a mirror and the audience realizes for the first time that under his beanie he is bald. The climactic gun battle comes as a shock and Gray is mown down by unemotional and nonchalant armed police. He struggles as they handcuff him and writhes as they smoke cigarettes. No help is given and he dies like an animal. An epilogue returns the Aramoana community to something resembling normality. But a few days later, people burn down Gray’s crib in a kind of exorcism, a strangely common superstitious act in New Zealand after homicides.

Director Robert Sarkies, after making only one other feature (a comedy drama about university students, called Scarfies), has succeeded masterfully in bringing potentially-controversial material to the screen with understatement, respect and restraint.

Author of this review: Brian McDonnell