The Film: Zero Day (2003)
The Principles: Ben Coccio(Director/writer), Cal Robertson, Andre Keuck
The Premise: A Psuedo re-enactment of the Columbine Massacre from the POV of the shooters.
Is It Good: I don’t know if good is the word for it. Particularly this soon after the Newton shootings. Structurally sound and harrowing may be better terms to describe the film.
The plot is very simple, two angry high school kids make a decision to kill people at their school to make a statement. The story and a lot of the details are extremely similar to the real life events surrounding the Columbine Massacre.
Zero Day does a nice job with the found footage aspect. They use the found footage to hold the audience captive to the sights and sounds the two murderers use to motivate themselves and create a narrative around the horrible event they are attempting to create. This is easily the biggest difference from the Gus Van Sant Columbine film Elephant. While they both have similar themes, they go to the same place through some very different methods. Elephant spends a lot more time during the shooting, racking up a higher body count and leaves the ending a little up in the air. Zero Day spends a lot more time on the buildup, and when the event does occur it is relatively short, though it appears painstakingly long. The resolution is definitive also.
The other big notable difference between the two films is the budget. While Elephant is considered a low budget indie, Zero Day could easily be defined as a no budget video. It makes it simple to see why one film would be so well known while the other is scarcely mentioned.
The two leads in Zero Day are totally mesmerizing in their roles. Never award quality acting, but extremely convincing as actors in their own home videos. This juxtaposes the audience into a pseudo realistic window to watch two teens self-destruct and take a lot of others with them. Andre acts as the supposed Alpha male, while the smaller and more likable Cal appears to follow.
Much as a general FU to the audience, the ring leader always has everything planned but the very end. The other blond haired kid that seems to be just going along for a ride sits back for most of the planning but shows in various ways that he is the one ultimately in control.
There are problems, a lot of which come from the no-budget. We never meet enough of the school kids to truly sympathize with them. The ones we do meet come across as stuck up and pretentious even though I don’t think that was the opinion the director wanted to convey. Every time they go to the school there are no other cars in the parking lot, which is amateur mistake 101. Without some identifiable enemy, it is hard to see why they would plan the horrible crime that they do. Even though that doesn’t lead to the most comprehensible narrative it does mirror the opinion real life aquaintences have had about most of the real life shooters.
Elephant will always be deemed the dominant source on the subject matter, though Zero Day may have presented the viewpoint of the young murderers much better. Neither of the films have any uplifting value or contribution to society, other than a character study of the truly evil beings behind a horrendous event.
Is It Worth A Look:
It is, but for those still recovering from any number of shooting tragedies, this may be best at a later time. This film doesn’t try to point a right or wrong at society and or guns, but it fits right in with the politics of today.
With gun control on the docket and often a conversation quick to be had but often quick to get tempers flaring, Zero Day has the kids obtain their weapons from “responsible” gun owners. It does nothing to back the proposed new legislation, but it does say that if gun owners do need to take caution. While being “responsible”, others may be looking for ways to violate that responsibility. There is also talk within the film about finding the security guard and taking them out first, so their fun is not interrupted. As the main suggestion for decreasing gun violence by the NRA, this stands as a wake-up call as this was written almost 10 years prior to the said proposal.
I normally don’t like the found footage films very much, but this one made proper use of the format. The switch to friends or security cameras at times, and particularly the school video monitor enhanced the normal two person recordings. I would say it fit the narrative model of the film very well, and actually did a nice job of keeping it realistic as to the characters on the screen never made you question who was filming.
The director didn’t have to show much technical prowess throughout due to the found footage aspect, yet the editing keeps the film moving at a very interesting rate.
A hard topic to sit through, and one that will surely turn many away, Zero Day presents a very realistic and almost pseudo plagiaristic view of the events that occurred at Columbine. Not for everyone, but for those who can stomach the topic it comes across as one of the stronger visions.
The budget for the film was 20,000.
The film was shot with amateur cameras directly after Columbine in 1999, completed two years later, but was shelved over fear of post September 11th feelings.
Cinematic Soulmates: Elephant, Kids, Bully, The Believer