Ben Coccio’s imagining of a fictionalized school shooting, “Zero Day,” initially made the rounds at festivals in 2003, but it was largely eclipsed by the coverage of Gus Van Sant’s similarly themed “Elephant.” Where that film remained somewhat detached, the camera always hovering at a distance from its subjects, Coccio’s directorial debut brings his version of the killers themselves to the forefront. Through “home-video footage” shot by the two boys, the film follows the year of preparation leading up to the massacre they have named ‘Zero Day.’
With the premise of handing control of the camera over to Cal (Calvin Robertson) and Andre (Andre Keuck), the film refuses to accept the idea of its anti-heroes as hopeless zombies led astray by the supposed ills of popular culture. The two are smart, witty at times, and almost wholly independent of their surroundings. They have friends, their families are not in any way abusive, and they never mention their cultural preferences, in fact burning all of their possessions before the attack so that no blame can be laid on such associations.
Refusing such simplistic links, the closest the film comes to an attempt to lay bare the boys’ motivations is in their own eleventh-hour explanation. Here Coccio finds the real terror of the boys in the rambling, angry, and illogical philosophy that that they espouse, describing the massacre as “the most respectful, the most loving thing we can do right now,” and themselves as “more powerful than God.”
The claustrophobic and intrusive presence of the camera adds a definite tension to the narrative, but this is a film which hangs squarely on its fantastic lead characters. Refusing to play into flimsy stereotypes, both boys’ performances are perfectly eerie: by turns charming and chilling. While the conclusion draws away, both in its narrative and its style, from their perspective (showing the massacre itself through the school’s security cameras) the two remain the beating, bleeding heart of “Zero Day.”