When a character in a mainstream film wields a gun, there is usually a method to his madness. Sometimes he’s a hero, protecting innocent civilians and upholding American values (not sure what that says about us, but whatever) against a villain. A baddie, on the other hand, uses the weapon as the means to an end. He has a plan for revenge, or world domination, or seeks to simply send a message to the good guy that yes, evil will triumph against the benign forces who seek to battle crime. Everything makes sense, at least on the level of indisputable action-movie logic. Everything is simple.
This assumption made by the mass media- that every act of violence has a reason, which can be dissected and fought by an opposing force, is what makes “Out of the Blue” so jarring. Because in the popcorn flick, kids don’t die. Victims are props to be used within the context of a bigger picture. It doesn’t seem so personal. “Out of the Blue” is a movie about a man who goes on a mass killing spree.
He plasters a number of residents in the seaside community of Aramoana, New Zealand; men, women, children, old people, for no fucking reason. He just goes off. That’s it. Now I’m sure in the true story this movie is based on, the shooter, David Gray, had more motivation than what what was initially evident. Family problems, money problems, relationship problems; all that crap. But “Out of the Blue” refuses to focus on the ‘why’ of what makes David Gray tick. Instead, it concentrates on the victims.
Aramoana’s police force’s biggest problem at the beginning of the film is rounding up errant dogs and investigating the apparent theft of ladies panties from David Gray (Matthew Sunderland,) the local weirdo. Kids go to school. Grown-ups go to work. Vacationers go fishing on the pier. Dogs and cats do whatever the hell pets do when their people aren’t home. It seems like a boring, regular day. But this is also the day where something inside small-town outcast David Gray’s brain snaps for the final time. He goes and buys a gun from a local shop, arbitrarily ranting and raving as he goes about his day. No longer will be remembered as David Gray, pervert and pantie raider. Things are going to go down in a big way.
It’s obvious that director Robert Sarkies has developed more of a sense of technical verve since his feature film debut, “Scarfies.” “Out of the Blue” is a taut, studied meditation on human nature, the good and the bad of it. Police officer Nick Harvey (Karl Urban) goes about an ordinary day, dealing with ho-hem pedestrian problems . Sweet old lady Helen Dickson (Lois Lawn) sees her grown son Jimmy (Timothy Barlett) off to work, completely ignorant of the fact that she will show uncommon bravery and soon be considered a hero by the media. Garry Holden (Simon Ferry) prepares to tell he and his girlfriend’s kids that they’ve gotten engaged.
It would be easy to go for nihilism in a story like this, but to take a ‘fuck humanity, we’re gross’ approach would be a disservice to the people who had their lives taken from them or altered forever in the carnage. Instead, we see the mad contrast between human ugliness and the redemptive power of the spirit. As David shoots up the town, a woman risks her life to pull her pet goat into the house. Now that’s the fucking human condition there. One person shoots indiscriminately at unarmed civilians, one person goes out of her way to rescue a farm animal. We’re cut from the same cloth, but we’re by no means the same. Some of us might as well be a different species all together.
Meanwhile, elderly Helen, who recently had hip replacement surgery, proves herself to be a bigger badass than anyone could have imagined. And while I usually feel weirdly sorry for mentally ill murderers, David Gray was making me involuntarily yell at the screen “Kill him, kill him, kill him!” in futile exasperation. And the end? What he got was too good for him. The acting is suitably outstanding from all, even the nonprofessionals (are we sure this was Lois Lawn’s first and only film role?) Karl Urban talks with his eyes in what is probably one of the most heart-wrenching performances of recent years.
Among the bloodshed, we do get to see some beautiful footage of New Zealand and we are offered beautiful shots of the mundane serenity of daily life. The steady, unblinking look into everyday existence contrasted with unthinkable violence is kind of like Haneke, if Haneke didn’t hate the fuck out his characters. I did think the movie was a little too long and tended to meander a bit too much (with lots of unnecessary shots of Garry’s burning house) but that is pretty much the only complaint. The other is that as desensitized as I am, this movie made my stomach flutter with anxiety and my heart hurt.
People who constantly bitch about even the most reasonable gun control laws need to watch this movie. It could just as well be called “Why Crazy People Shouldn’t Have Guns.” Background checks? Unfathomable! Then this happens, and this country says it’s going to change, but it doesn’t. The problem is, people who push the right for every man to have a gun his his hand and his other hand down his pants to wank at his power trip probably don’t want to watch a movie about the actual consequences of violence.
“Out of the Blue” is super realistic, even agonizingly so. But it’s an important watch, and a achingly well-made movie on it’s own terms. The actors are portraying the victims stories like it’s their last role on earth, and breaking our hearts in the process. It takes it’s place for me as my second favorite New Zealand film (nothing beats “What We Do in the Shadows,” guys!) and one of the only films that truly disturbed and shocked me in recent times. But there is a meaning behind the violence, one that unfortunately will fail to reach those who need it most. I recommend this for everyone who likes movies as art as well as entertainment, and even more to those who like social commentary in their filmmaking. This s what Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” tried and failed to be, a truly profound statement on human nature and gun violence.