The legacy of the Columbine High shootings receives a Haxan-esque review in this eerie naturalist drama, one of the few post-"Blair Witch" features to put the digital-video medium to an appropriate (not just cost-effective) use. Director Ben Coccio's film (co-written with his brother, Chris) is configured as a series of camcorder diary entries left by Calvin Gabriel (Calvin Robertson) and Andre Kriegman (Andre Kreuck), two middle-class kids planning a violent assault on their high school. Calling themselves "the Army of Two," Calvin and Andre take us through their meticulous preparations for the fateful day, including the stockpiling of explosives and a bedroom rifle-modification session that's almost interrupted by a curious house cat.
Located at the nexus point of suburban mundanity and violent pathology, "Zero Day" keeps us in the company of two eminently watchable would-be terrorists. (We even get to see the towheaded Calvin have his braces removed.) For all the unthinkable horror they're planning, the members of this two-man militia come across as intelligent, funny and often charming. They're also determined to avoid the alleged mistakes their murderous predecessors have made, which is why they've decided to document their campaign in the first place: The taped memoirs, they tell us, are being stored in a safe-deposit box, and will be "willed" to the media elite after the mission is complete. The emphasis they place on public relations points up the movie's subtly turned thesis: that the actions taken by kids like Calvin and Andre are informed as much by the news coverage of past atrocities as by the events themselves.
Some seriously skillful acting enables us to utterly suspend disbelief. Except for one weak scene between Cal and his girlfriend, the depiction of adolescent angst has the fly-on-the-wall authenticity of reality shows like "American High." Director Coccio made some wise choices at the casting stage, including having the boys' real-life parents play their onscreen counterparts. For added intimacy, the filmmaker's own brother, Chris, plays a cousin who becomes an unwitting source of munitions.
Some viewers are bound to complain that "Zero Day" doesn't do enough to condemn and/or explain the boys' particular obsession, but I found that decision both refreshing and illustrative. Witness a watershed passage in which Calvin and Andre try to formulate a coherent statement of intent, and end up contradicting themselves left and right. Random assignations of blame alternate with denials that the Zero Day initiative has any inherent message whatsoever. To a kid, life can mean everything and nothing at all -- a pretty good reason not to keep guns in the house.