Based on the true story of New Zealands biggest-ever mass murder, in which lone guman David Gray killed 13 people in small seaside town Aramoana.
A low-budget thriller that, on paper, sounds like a sequel to Into The Blue, and which has as its nominal leads Karl Urban and a seventysomething old dear? Out Of The Blue may not, at first glance, appear entirely enticing.
Of course, as the residents of snoozy seaside town Aramoana, New Zealand, tragically discovered, appearances can be deceptive. It was there that, one day in 1990, recluse David Gray (Matthew Sunderland) revealed the unstable gun-nut that lay beneath, flipping after an altercation with his neighbour and embarking on a murder spree that, by the time it concluded 22 hours later, had claimed the lives of 13 people. The tragedy remains New Zealand’s biggest-ever mass killing. Yet director Robert Sarkies’ beautifully shot docu-drama admirably manages to dramatise the horror of its real-life events without ever exploiting them.
Disregarding conventional thriller signposting and pacing, Sarkies’ refusal to bolt a traditional dramatic arc onto events that were, by their very nature, random and unfathomable, sees us focus not only on the killer but also the victims themselves. Having meticulously stitched together as accurate a timeline as possible through interviews with survivors, police transcripts and crime-scene photographs, Sarkies’ greatest achievement is his brilliantly drawn characters - bewildered, terrified and, in many cases, ultimately heroic.
Played by a mix of professional and non-professional actors, the townsfolk’s reactions never feel anything but real. Karl Urban’s cop, used to nothing more than finding the odd lost pet, is helplessly ill-equipped, while a scene that sees him in the back of a police car on the way back to the station, cradling a dead boy, is most likely one of the most upsetting you’ll see this year.
How such grim subject matter ultimately becomes a hugely moving and uplifting experience is down to 72 year-old amateur - Lois Lawn - an instant shoo-in for our Heroes Of 2008. Living alone and isolated from her family, her feisty nature is heartbreaking. Not least in a scene where, fresh from hip surgery, she repeatedly crawls through a ditch to give aid and reassurance to a fatally wounded man. It’s a beautiful piece of cinema and a powerful, refreshing reminder of the strength of the human spirit.
A haunting, uplifting and never-exploitative portrayal of a terrifying real-life tragedy.