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Zero Day (Ben Coccio, 2003)


    Calvin and Andre, the self-described “Army of Two” that Ben Coccio’s school-shooting drama Zero Day focuses on, seem, almost to an absurd degree, to be outwardly normal teenagers. They have an usual predilection for videotaping themselves and certainly aren’t the most popular kids in their school, but in watching them talk to their parents or hang out at a party, they hardly seem the sort that would be predisposed toward such profoundly antisocial behavior. That’s probably one of the film’s main points. Starting in the summer of 2000, Zero Day traces a year in the lives of Calvin and Andre as they initiate and execute a covert campaign of teen terror. Presented almost entirely as a series of confessional homemade movies shot by the perpetrators themselves (a device that is slightly strained at times), the film thoroughly documents the process leading up to the school shooting, but leaves the motivation behind it frustratingly unarticulated.


    I don’t mean to imply that I see the lack of stated motivation as a weakness, however. As the frenzied media so aptly proved after the Columbine attacks, most conjecture about the reasoning behind a tragedy like the one in Zero Day is thoroughly unsubstantiated. Almost as a direct response to the actions of media following the Columbine attacks, and partially because they don’t want their privacy invaded after they die, they burn their CD, book and videogame collections, so the media can’t be blamed. There are small moments throughout that would allow an interpretation that the boys are homosexual. There’s a brief homoerotic flirtation between the two during a visit to the bank, and a scene during which Cal’s girlfriend suggests Andre is gay because he acts oddly, but it’s just as likely that she’s labeling him as such because her undeveloped mind doesn’t have a better way to classify the disturbing quirks in his behavior. Most likely a combination of the guarantee of attention, the euphoric rush of getting away with something and a lack of true perspective into the consequences of their actions is to blame. The night before their spree, Andre declares, “Fuck the reasons, there are none!”, and then quickly starts talking about an incident during which he was called a “faggot” while walking down the hall in a shirt from J.C. Penny’s. In their faulty logic, this is a great injustice, and at least on some level, they see the message they’re sending as one to “respect and love your fellow man.” What is apparent through all of this speculation is that the two of them are aware they’ll die during their spree, though the concept of death seems more abstract for Andre than for Cal. Death chillingly never seems like much of a deterrent.


     As intelligently vague as Zero Day remains with regards to clear reasons behind its characters actions, it has a tendency to oversimplify in its presentation. That the boys managed to capture on video almost every key moment in their plan’s evolution through the course of a year seems overly contrived at times. Less satisfactory are the titles and subtitles that give the audience the character names, translations of the language Andre’s father speaks and dates. Even the smoothly edited chronology of the footage annoys, since it puts an additional layer between the viewer and the characters that makes it feel more like the film is a media assembled collection of highlights from the thirty or so hours of footage the killers shot than a raw pseudo-confession from the criminals themselves. Perhaps most irksome of all to me is the fact that no character in the film ever utters the dreaded word that hangs over all of the proceedings: Columbine. I can certainly understand that this might have been out of deference for the families of the victims or an attempt to make the film less specific than it might otherwise have been, but it’s almost inconceivable that two boys planning an attack like this one, even if they talk in code at times, wouldn’t directly address those attacks, by name. To treat that real-life tragedy as something off limits - to shy away from it - is to sanctify it in a way that gets away from a true understanding of it.


    Some of the other small miscalculations of Zero Day seem like the more forgivable errors that a first time director might make than ideological statements. For example, the placement of two American flags behind Cal as he describes meeting Andre is a case of metaphoric overkill in a movie that’s otherwise quite naturalistic. Such gaffes are a small price to pay for a movie that contains moments as disturbing and touching as the one near the end of the movie in which Andre’s father observes that he feels his son has matured a lot in the preceding year. It’s no doubt that the two young actors that portray the boys are talented (even if it’s a lot easier to get a quality performance when shooting on home video cameras with no real crew), and the film would be greatly reduced if they didn’t possess such unaffected, believable charm. When Zero Day finally shows these two kids we’ve grown to know realize their plan, the tension rackets up to an unbelievable level, partially because the security camera’s point of view that we view the action from recalls footage that surfaced of the Columbine shootings. It’s a powerhouse sequence that easily relies as much on our collective conscience of real-life tragedy as the talents of the filmmaker, but that doesn’t keep it from being one of the most arresting scenes to hit theater screens so far this year. Shot in real-time, it’s downright harrowing, and made doubly unfortunate by the inclusion of an ambiguous but simpleminded epilogue that robs Zero Day of a final image that would have had infinitely more resonance.




Jeremy Heilman