In the small New Zealand town of Aramoana, on November 13, 1990, a man named David Gray went on a homicidal spree, gunning down his friends and neighbors, and plunging the nation into a state of shock. Inspired by Gray's deadly rampage, Out of the Blue is a meditative drama that sets out to recount the events of that horrible day. As with most films of this nature, Out of the Blue runs the risk of going one of two divergent paths. First is the more exploitative path that turns the entire event into a disgusting circus. Second is something more akin to a made for television drama, where the salacious violence is overshadowed by maudlin melodrama. Surprisingly, the film chooses a third, much-less traveled path.
Matt Sunderland co-stars as David Gray, an unemployed loner who collects guns. Within the context of the film, Gray is an unassuming man whose rage is more simmering than a rapid boil. When he explodes in anger at the local bank over a service charge, there is little indication of how destructive his fury can be. Meanwhile, as Gray goes about his day, building up to his eventual outburst of deadly violence, the rest of Aramoana goes on about its business. Children are playing the streets, couples are making plans for the future, police officer Nick Harvey (Karl Urban) is getting ready to work on his roof, and all seems to be good. Suddenly, an innocuous confrontation between Gray and his friend and neighbor Garry Holden (Simon Ferry) turns brutal, when Gray guns him down in cold blood with his daughters watching. With that, Gray opens up the floodgates of Hell, and the flames literally begin to engulf Aramoana, as the fire he sets to Holden's house--with one of his daughters and the daughter of his girlfriend inside--rages out of control.
The police are slow to react to Gray's violence, in part because no one can bring themselves to accept what is going on. But when Gray kills beloved cop Stu Guthrie (William Kirtcher), the grim reality sets in. As night falls, the police hunt for Gray who has disappeared into the darkness, and the locals hide in fear, wondering where Gray will strike next. But while all of this is going on, the townspeople also find themselves rising to the occasion with acts of heroism as they fight to protect their friends and family. Helen Dickson (Lois Lawn), a seventy-something woman who walks with crutches after having both hips replaced, crawls on her belly on the side of the road as she goes to get help for a neighbor she barely even knows.
It would have been easy for Out of the Blue to degenerate into either a shameless bit of exploitation cinema or simply heartfelt drama that casts Gray as a sinister monster and the rest of the town as victims-in-waiting. Instead, the film tries to be more thoughtful and engaging, and at times is reminiscent of Gus Van Sant's Elephant in that it often moves at a very meditative pace. Because little was known about what caused Gray to snap, the film goes to great lengths to portray him as more of a force of nature. Gray is as recognizable as a quiet, slightly disturbed neighbor that largely keeps to himself as he is as a foreboding storm cloud that promises to bring some very ugly weather. This helps to effectively create a greater sense of tension, as we watch Gray, knowing that he is about to snap, while at the same time trying to look for clues that will help explain the senseless acts he is going to commit.
Based on a book by Bill O'Brien, one of the police officers on the scene, Out of the Blue is one of those rare films that is inspired by true events, and actually stays close to what really happened. Director and co-screenwriter Robert Sarkies spends more time in recounting what actually happened than in conjecture over why it happened, resulting in a film with an eerie tension and sense of dread. Music is used only sparsely, which ends to the overall tension, and makes the film all the more unsettling.
Out of the Blue is a well-made film. If is beautifully shot--mostly handheld--and is edited very well. The performances are all solid, and the story is always compelling. At the same time, it is not the easiest film to watch, nor is it pleasantly uplifting. On the contrary, the film is somber, and depressing, which makes it hard to come out and declare it a "must-see" film. Still, it is worth watching.