Arts & Entertainment
Living fast and hard … on digital
Published Thursday, 20-May-2004 in issue 856
Written and directed by Brian Coccio
Written by Brian and Chris Coccio
I bought Ben Coccio’s brilliantly realized Zero Day – about two disgruntled teens who conduct a Columbine-like assault on their high school – hook, line and sinker. Imagine my shock (and professional embarrassment) when I realized it isn’t a documentary at all, but a fictionalized video diary — clearly inspired by the 1999 Colorado shooting spree – detailing the 11 months leading up to the scrupulously engineered attack. Shot for maximum effect on digital video, it uses mostly non-actors (all of them excellent), who worked from a story outline and were encouraged to flesh scenes out with improvisation.
That may sound like an Elephant retread, but as far as I’m concerned, the ingenious Zero Day has little in common with Gus Van Sant’s intriguing but limited look at a similar incident (which focused exclusively on the day of the event). Zero Day is far superior: more involving, better structured, more emotionally powerful. That it’s only now being released (it debuted back in 2002 at various film festivals, where it grabbed several awards) says something about the slow path of independent film distribution.
“Live fast, live hard, and die by any combination of those two” is the motto shared by best buds Andre (Andre Keuck) and Cal (Calvin Robertson), who are obsessively planning a massacre at their high school (there are no direct references to Columbine in the film, incidentally). Though each has suffered various slights from fellow students (Andre, the domineering ringleader of the “Army of Two,” as they call themselves, was once called a faggot because he was wearing a JC Penney T-shirt), they insist there’s no “reason” for the bloody onslaught they’re going to unleash on the first day of the upcoming school year. (“Payback” does seem to be high on their list of “Reasons to Kill A Bunch of People.”)
It’s not the movies or CDs or video games or books they’ve been exposed to that have led them down this path, they insist. “Our parents had nothing to do with this,” says the blond, congenial Cal. “This is our idea and nobody else’s.”
Because it is a video diary (the boys mean to stash all 30 hours of video tape in a safe deposit box for the media to feast upon later), we are witness to the entire day-by-day evolution of “zero day” (so named because the original idea was to carry off their siege on the first day the temperature dropped to zero in Connecticut, the film’s location). There’s the ordering of weapons through the Internet (frighteningly easy), Andre and Cal’s zealous target practice using stuffed animals (including, eerily, Bambi), their theft of guns from one of their naively trusting cousins. And, finally, the horrific incident itself, captured with bracing authenticity on school surveillance cameras. (As they pick victims off, a 911 operator tries to get Andre to talk on the phone — a completely convincing sequence you can’t believe has been in any way faked.)
There are lighter moments — Cal having his braces removed, Andre receiving a video camera (not the one he wanted, of course) from his parents on his birthday, Cal going to the prom with pals – that allow us to get to know these guys on more than just a one-dimensional level. Keuck and Robertson (who carry the film beautifully) are so likeable, it’s impossible to dismiss them as unfeeling monsters with a death wish. Even their best friends don’t have a clue as to what they’re up to, which shows how hard each had to work to create two different personalities.
First-time writer-director Ben Coccio (who penned the script outline with brother Chris, also a featured player) has made an intensely immediate, meticulously detailed bone-chiller – it haunts you long after you’ve wished it would go away.
You may question why Zero Day was made (do we really learn an anything new about teenagers or their capacity for violence?), but as an experiment in terror, it’s right up there with the most disturbing movies ever made.
(Opens Friday, May 28, at Madstone Theaters. Plays for one week only — run may be extended if audience supports the film)
**** a must-see
BOMB (think Joan Crawford’s Trog)
Kyle Counts is the film critic for the Gay & Lesbian Times