Andre Kriegman and Cal Gabriel don't fit the profile.
They're bright kids who share a benign sardonic wit, and when they talk to Andre's video camera, an 18th-birthday gift from his slightly existential father -- "Who needs Prozac when I got you, Dad?" quips Andre, the rhetorician of the pair -- they seem like they're making a typical home-movie diary.
Naturally, they hate their stupid high school, and they have a nemesis: Brad Huff, the wrestling stud who drinks and does drugs but never loses his license. So on a warm July night, Cal and Andre pelt Brad's home with rotten eggs. It is, they tell their video camera, their first "act of war."
They aren't just talking trash. For during this summer, the "Army of Two" plans an armed assault on their high school, which the school's security cameras will capture in fuzzy black and white. And because they leave their own videotapes behind in a bank strongbox, we see their plans unfold in Blair Witch fashion, minus the supernatural horrors.
Ben Coccio's Zero Day, like Gus Van Sant's Elephant before it, coolly reconstructs (and passively deconstructs) an ineffable recent phenomenon of very few young lives. Both movies star nonprofessional actors, both look like documentaries, and both conclude that the kids who ultimately kill people are the ones whose lives got messed with by their peers.
Coccio's film is less complicated than Van Sant's artier effort, and that's partly why Zero Day is both more and less effective. Its untrained performers are wonderfully authentic, and its flawless climax is difficult to watch. But Coccio has contrived his characters to be impenetrable, and while Andre and Cal should terrify us as they merrily plan their adventure -- they're very astute about everything in a self-consciously postmodern way -- you have to work hard to believe that these implausibly affable kids would be the ones in their high school to do it.
Coccio gives his killers almost amateurishly symbolic fictional surnames: Blond-haired Cal is the more angelic participant; Krieg is German for war. He cast the real parents of his nascent stars, Andre Keuck and Calvin Robertson, to play Andre Kriegman's and Cal Gabriel's parents, so obviously these young men come from close suburban Connecticut families.
With it being as easy as it is to get guns in America, and with as many guns as there are to get, why do events like this happen so infrequently? Because, I think, most teen-agers like Coccio's and Van Sant's fuck up their own lives rather than ending the lives of others (Cal says he takes part in "Zero Day" so his death will have meaning). And yet, our culture is fascinated enough by this rarity for two filmmakers to spend their time speculating on its causes -- and coming up with interesting movies that hardly elucidate a thing.