Directed by Robert Sarkies
Written by Graeme Tetley and Robert Sarkies
Aramoana is a statement word, now – a place name tied to tragedy in New Zealand’s public consciousness. The events of those November days in 1990 remain the worst mass murder in our country’s history, yet at the time it was just “the pathway to the sea,” a small, sleepy township at the mouth of Otago Harbour.
Robert Sarkies’ sensitive and immensely powerful second feature film Out of the Blue takes us back to innocent, seemingly idyllic times, then drags us through the shocking ordeal. Based on Bill O’Brien’s book, Aramoana: 22 Hours of Terror, this isn’t a complete shot-by-shot chronicle, nor is it a slick, sensationalised thriller. Instead, by focussing on how the residents, including the gunman, react to the unthinkable, Sarkies has created a layered portrait of the everyday turned upside down under extreme pressure.
The beautiful landscape and vignettes of ordinary life in the community leave us completely unprepared for what is about to happen, even though history has already filled in the ending. As the pressure within increasingly paranoid David Gray builds up, you still wish for anything, anyone, to reach out in time to stop him. Detachedly taking his reponse to what he is doing into account as much as the reactions of those he is terrorising makes the film all the more upsettingly realistic: this is not clear-cut fiction, it is real life, and begs the question “what would you do?”
With incredibly poetic cinematography and extremely fine performances, Out of the Blue is able to lay out the tragic chain of events in real terms, showing people doing the best they can to cope with the situation they’re in, whether that be comforting a wounded stranger, crawling through ditches for help, creeping through smoke-filled darkness looking for a madman with a gun who’s already killed neighbours and friends, or lashing out in an attempt to keep the world from persecuting you. Stunning, in all senses of the word.
For a similarly potent, non-moralising look at issues of mental health and gun control, see Gus Van Sant’s dream-like Elephant, an exploration of youth culture, alienation, and violence culminating in the Columbine High School massacre in the United States.