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School Raze: Andre Keuck (left) and Calvin Robertson plot their revenge on the indignities of high school life in 'Zero Day.'

Shooting Party

'Zero Day' wants to be a 'Blair Witch Project' for a school shooting incident

By Richard von Busack

AFTER A CERTAIN POINT, a filmmaker's attempt to make a fake home movie matches the dull real thing so well that you might as well be watching a home movie. Zero Day poses as the video diary of a pair of school shooters. It's the record of the year or two before they prepare a massacre on a date they've nicknamed "Zero Day."

In suburban upstate New York, dark-haired Andre (Andre Keuck) and Cal (Calvin Robertson), the self-described "Army of Two," plan to shoot up the school. They've armed themselves with weapons borrowed from either home or relatives. On camera, they give instructions--with one crucial step eliminated, I think--on making pipe bombs. Birthday parties, Cal getting his braces removed and family vacation footage are mixed in accidentally with the diary. So is some target practice with stuffed toy animals (hardly ominous--this is as common a young man's activity as reading comic books). We also see Cal with his girlfriend, Rachel (Rachel Benichak), and watch him toying with a sitar, to suggest that he could have had a normal life if he hadn't been overcome with his murderous plan.

Coccio is careful not to pin the killings on the families. About the only difference from the suburban norm shows up on Andre's side. Andre's father (Gerhard Keuck) is a German immigrant, but this doesn't figure into the story, not even in the form of a teen's minor embarrassment over having a father who talks funny.

The post Blair Witch mockumentary hasn't produced anything really devastating yet. Unlike The Blair Witch Project, the casting in such movies tends to be casual, "natural." The definition of a film star is a person who can be interesting doing nothing. In a mockumentary meant to look amateur, you have a lot of nothing going on. Coccio has made a halfhearted, perhaps tasteless, attempt to pass off Zero Day as an account of a real-life school shooting. He's put up a fairly authentic-looking website to fool the gullible.

If this film's distinguished, it's only in the way it sums up the essential vagueness of adolescence. Only years later can we round up and classify what we felt when we were in high school--why we did the things we did--and we still can't be perfectly sure. Because of all the talking the two do to the camera, we have a better idea for the reasons, or nonreasons, why Andre and Cal decide to take out their school. It's all a jumble of motives--petty hatreds, the usual fantasies about being samurai. At least audiences come out of Zero Day less blank than they did from Elephant. The killing spree is going to be a message no one can ignore, Cal asserts, even if no one knows precisely what that message is supposed to be. Mostly, Zero Day only has the beckoning dark at the end of the tunnel to keep you watching.

Zero Day (Unrated; 92 min.), directed and photographed by Ben Coccio, written by Ben and Christopher Coccio and starring Calvin Robertson and Andre Keuck, opens Friday at Camera One in San Jose.

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From the December 4-10, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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