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Out Of The Blue
cast: Karl Urban, Matthew Sunderland. Lois Lawn, Simon Ferry, and Tandi Wright

director: Robert Sarkies

100 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
On 13th November 1990, in the scenic, seaside township of Aramoana, New Zealand, unstable loner David Gray killed 12 of his friends and neighbours (four of them children), and one policeman. Bill O'Brien wrote a book about the massacre: Aramoana: 22 Hours Of Terror, and now director Robert Sarkies has turned it into an absorbing, un-sensational docudrama, made with the input and cooperation of the survivors.

If you're looking for reasons why David Gray went off the deep end, you won't find them here. Apart from vague hints that he might have been suffering from schizophrenia, no one seems to have fathomed his motives even now. So Sarkies confines himself to dramatising the well documented events of that day. It starts out serene and sunny, and the eccentric citizens of Aramoana's mishmash of a community do what they always do: have breakfast and get the kids off to school... totally unaware of the impending tragedy that will engulf them later that day.

Once Gray (Matthew Sunderland) has started his killing spree, local policeman Nick Harvey (Karl Urban, with a striking moustache) and his colleagues have their work cut out to stop him. Night is falling fast, Aramoana is hard to reach, and the police are under trained and ill equipped. This is no Hollywood blockbuster, so people are inept and make bad decisions, and the heroism, from police and civilians alike, is of the quietly stoic kind. Septuagenarian Helen Dickson (played by non-professional actress Lois Lawn), for example, is still recovering from hip replacement surgery but it doesn't stop her from trying to get help for a wounded neighbour. As for the police, despite the emotional toll of their harrowing discoveries of the dead and dying, they are bound by rules and regulations that mean they can't simply 'execute' Gray on the spot. As the terrifying, endless, pitch-black night progresses, the unstable, unpredictable gunman goes to ground...

Out Of The Blue perfectly captures the feeling of the calm before the storm. Sarkies shows us just enough of the families' lives and relationships to engage our sympathies for them before moving his plot on, and I felt a sense of genuine shock when, after a trivial altercation with amiable neighbour Garry (Simon Ferry), Gray let loose at him with his semi-automatic. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the scene where the increasingly out-of-their-depth local police discover a wounded three-year-old and her dead siblings. Sarkies deftly enhances the mood throughout by his sparing use of music. I could have done without some of his arty out-of-focus shots, though.

Sunderland throws himself into the part of the chain-smoking gunman, conveying his isolation, obsession with his gun collection, paranoia, and tendency to fly into a murderous rage at the drop of a hat. But I couldn't detect the sad 'little boy' quality that Sarkies insists is there. As for Urban (Pathfinder, Doom, The Chronicles Of Riddick), he's simply the best and most emotionally authentic I've seen him to date, maybe because he's using his native kiwi accent and was able to call on the 'real' Nick Harvey for inspiration.

Out Of The Blue comes packed with DVD extras, which repeatedly stress the awareness of everyone involved that those who suffered the tragedy needed to approve of the finished film. As well as an audio commentary from director Robert Sarkies and author Bill O'Brien, there are two short featurettes: The Tragedy and Honouring Aramoana. For those previously unaware of the factual details of the massacre, there's ten minutes of original news footage, plus a photo gallery. There are also a trailer; a 13-minute documentary about the making of Out Of the Blue; interviews with members of both cast and crew; and audition interviews.

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