It remains the deadliest rampage in New Zealand history. On Nov. 13, 1990, David Gray, a classic loner type in the remote village of Aramoana, went berserk and started shooting his neighbors. And by the time he was done, some 22 hours later, 14 of them were dead, three were wounded, and nobody who lived through the experience would ever be the same. Gray shot indiscriminately at men, women and children, friend and foe alike, to the extent he had any friends. And because he didn't bother to leave a note behind, his motives were locked away inside his head when police finally cut him down. He had simply appeared Out of the Blue, armed to the teeth.
And now, not quite out of the blue, appears Robert Sarkies' docudrama about that dreadful day and night into morning. One could reasonably ask whether we need a movie about a killing spree that made no sense at the time and still makes no sense today, but here it is, like a dog that's brought home a well-chewed carcass. Two books have been written about the massacre, and Sarkies draws on them to reproduce the events down to the last drop of blood. He shot the film in a neighboring village, so the verisimilitude is high. In fact, if there were awards for keeping it real, Sarkies would surely win one. You'll feel like you're right there in Aramoana, hiding in your closet.
We're given only glimpses of most of the residents, slightly longer looks at a few, but glimpses turn out to be enough; we care about these people. As for Gray, who's played by Matthew Sunderland, Sarkies keeps him at a distance, going so far as to blur the focus so we can't get a clear picture of what he's thinking. Sarkies also uses sound to wonderful/horrible effect, letting us sense how the world must have impinged on Gray's fragile psyche. He was undoubtedly paranoid, possibly schizophrenic, and Sunderland is utterly convincing. But the movie's greatest strength is the texture of daily life that Sarkies creates, only to rip it to shreds.
Why'd he do it? Sarkies, I mean. For when you get right down to it, his motives are as mysterious as Gray's.