We witness a series of video diaries recorded by two teenage best friends, Cal (Calvin Robertson) and Andre (Andre Keuck), who are planning a killing spree to be carried out on "zero day". Determined to leave a mark on the world, and aiming to act with military-style precision, the two talk in detail about their plans and goals, regarding the video as a "testament" to be discovered after their deaths.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Back in 1999, when reality TV was just getting off the ground, there was some novelty in the idea that the two perpetuators of the Columbine high school massacre, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, left behind a "video diary" recorded in the months beforehand. I remember being struck by reports that the taped statements of the killers included flippant references to dramatic conventions such as "foreshadowing" - as if they saw themselves as characters in a "postmodern" horror comedy along the lines of Wes Craven's Scream.
In giving us a fictional version of those tapes, Zero Day makes a couple more turns of the screw. As an el cheapo video stunt, it's far more inspired than The Blair Witch Project - but if the concept is practically foolproof, writer-director Ben Coccio has more than one trick up his sleeve. The glacial chic of Gus van Sant's Elephant was fascinating on its own terms, but in tackling the same material, Coccio is far more willing to approach head-on the endlessly intriguing question: who were these kids and why did they kill?
Not that he tries to imagine the mindset of the killers from scratch. As in Elephant, the teenage actors use their real names, and appear to be improvising much of their dialogue. Going one better, Coccio even has the actual families of his leads portray their counterparts onscreen. This blurring of the boundary between reality and fiction makes it hard to view Cal and Andre as psychos who merely "appear" normal - on a documentary level, their authentic "normality" shines through.
Thus a lot of screen time is devoted to the familiar comedy of teenage boys bickering, bonding, or just horsing around (one segment is presented as a parody of a TV home repairs show). As Coccio underlines in a devastating epilogue, the feelings which propel them are neither rare nor hard to recognise: a freefloating rage, but also boredom, the desire for self-assertion, and even a sense of play.
It's said that by mentally "rehearsing" their actions before carrying them out, law-breakers of all kinds manage to erode the terror of transgression. Over the course of this film something similar happens to the viewer: the prospect of the continually "foreshadowed" massacre loses its shock value and comes to be taken for granted, while remaining as impossibly unreal as one's own death.
Neither social realism nor kitsch horror, the film acquires a surprising metaphysical gravity, almost as if these kids were characters in a Dostoevsky novel: the longer we share their perspective, the harder it becomes to dismiss their own view of their crime as a consciously irrational choice, a perverse assertion of humanity. Indeed, once we acknowledge our own dreadful fascination with the subject-matter, we no longer need explanations: the screen becomes a mirror, the killers are us.
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ZERO DAY (R)
CAST: Calvin Robertson, Andre Keuck, Rachel Benichak, Christopher Coccio, David Futernick, Gerhard Keuck, Johanne Keuck
PRODUCER: Ben Coccio
DIRECTOR: Ben Coccio
SCRIPT: Ben Coccio, Christopher Coccio
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ben Coccio
EDITOR: Ben Coccio, David Shuff
MUSIC: Benji Cossa
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Courtney Jordan
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Imagine
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne/Sydney: September 23, 2004
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