Funded by the New Zealand national film council, Out of the Blue tells the story of the true life tragic events in Aramoana where 13 people died at the hands of David Gray, a local un-employed man who went on the rampage over two days in 1990. Following, Gray (Matthew Sunderland), a police force (including an impressive Karl Urban) struggling to cope with events it is ill-equipped to handle and the small town’s local residents trapped in the middle the film pitches itself at ground-level, telling the story with a vicious honesty.
Director Robert Sarkies creates an impressive array of contrasts within Out of the Blue, highlighting how Aramoana really is the last place on earth anyone would expect this to happen. Opening shots of beautiful beach and countryside scenes are all the more poignant when we know what inevitably will follow. In fact the entire opening 20 minutes or so are amongst some of the tensest in modern cinema as characters are built whom we are only too aware, existed in reality but are not there any longer.
Gray is introduced early on and Sarkies doesn’t shy away from presenting him as seriously mentally unstable. Early scenes see him exploding at a teller in a bank while at other times he clearly imagines false pressures pushing in on him. While answers aren’t exactly forthcoming about Gray both throughout the film and by the time the inevitable conclusion hits Sarkies does try his best to craft a character out of the little which is obviously known.
During a horrific night-time siege of the town (which is little more than an organised hamlet on the shore) by Gray, the director narrows the focus down to key members of the community and the police force who struggle to adapt and help than make it through the night. Decent turns by both Karl Urban and William Kircher as the two lead police officers help anchor what happens in a stark urban reality, maintained to a high level by Sarkies.
At times Out of the Blue is extremely hard to watch, all the more difficult for the fact that we know we are witnessing events in almost a slightly-delayed real-time. Gray’s victims included the weak and the vulnerable and while at times Sarkies can be accused of watering down particularly horrific deaths, rarely is the film anything but brutally, and disturbingly, honest. While not shying away from presenting us with the victims and their stories Starkies does not negate the fact that there are heroes here too, and plenty of them.