Follow TV Tropes


Film / Zero Day

Go To

Zero Day is a 2003 film directed by Ben Coccio, built as a mockumentary of sorts archiving hours of video diaries recorded in 2000 and 2001 by two high schoolers — Andre Kriegman and Calvin Gabriel — ahead of a Columbine-esque massacre they plan to enact (referred to by both as the namesake "Zero Day").

The recordings document the preparation and rather vague explanations given by the two, as well as broader aspects of their lives through seemingly random family scenes and events.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When a random student during the shooting runs away shouting "Fuck you!" to the duo, Andre and Cal are so surprised by this they laugh it off and joke about it.
  • A God Am I: Andre and Cal brag that their actions give them the power of life and death over others, and therefore godhood.
    Cal: We will be more powerful then God.
    Andre: We're gonna be God, no mistake about that. We'll be fucking God, I mean, we decide who lives and who dies. Anybody who manages to get out, years from now their puny little life is going to have meaning and they're going to thank us, because they're going to think that God spared their lives.
  • A.K.A.-47: Averted, supplementary materials list the weapons used by their actual names.
  • All There in the Manual: Additional information about the setting, main characters and the shooting itself and its aftermath could be found on the now-archived official website of the film. The website was made to look like the official police report of the event and contained a step-by-step account of the attack, the name of the victims and the shooters' profiles.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg:
    • Several victims beg for the killers to stop or spare them, but Gregg takes the cake: he grovels at Andre's feet, calls him "sir", and begs to have his life spared. Andre jokes about it and decides not to kill Greg because of it, calling him "too pathetic". Cal kills him instead.
    • Averted twice; the first time, Andre mocks the second to last person alive for not having any last words or so much as a plea for help before gunning him down. The second time, a student runs out of the room shouting "Fuck you!" to Andre and Cal, and lives.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: The very last scene is set after the massacre and features a small group of teens that burn down a couple of crosses set up to commemorate Andre and Cal as fellow victims.
  • Anger Born of Worry: Andre gets frustrated with Cal after the latter picks a fight outside a poetry slam, fearing that it could get the pair in trouble with their parents.
  • Artifact Title: An in-universe variation; Andre and Cal dub the name of their massacre "Zero Day" because they plan to have it occur on a day where the temperature is zero degrees Celsius. They later set the day of the massacre to be on May Day, as they had an unexpectedly warm winter, on the one day of the year it was zero degrees outside, Andre was sick and couldn't launch the attack. The boys keep the name regardless.
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: Surprisingly averted, all firearms in the film are secured properly and handled safely during the target practice scenes. Andre even passes up taking an extra shotgun when he doesn't see a loaded chamber indicator on it, wanting to avoid an accidental discharge.
  • Ax-Crazy: Both Calvin and Andre are violent lunatics, and as their shooting spree kicks off, it shows just how deranged both of them are.
  • Axes at School: As it culminates in a school shooting, this is expected, and the ending plays it straight.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The shooters decide they want to die on their own terms, not killed by the police forces.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Cal is portrayed as a gentle, shy and meek boy in his recorded material, with just an indefinable hint of something threatening simmering underneath the surface. The high school security cameras, however, capture a sadistic, violent, irritable and merciless teenager. It's totally left up to interpretation whether Cal is a straight version of this trope or if he's actually a Manipulative Bastard.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Andre and Cal, the shooters. While it might seem that firebrand, dedicated Andre is the ringleader, the poetry slam scenes show that he is completely emotionally dependent on Cal to be able to carry out his plan, and that Cal is eerily good at placating Andre. What starts with Andre shouting furiously at Cal ends with Andre driving around at night with his eyes closed, following Cal's directions.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Andre and Cal scream at a wounded girl to shut up during the massacre.
  • Black Dude Dies First: One of the first people to die in the shooting is black.
  • Blaming the Victim: Andre and Cal deflect all responsibility for the attack onto the rest of the school population, citing bullying.
  • Book Burning: Andre and Cal burn as many of their worldly possessions as they can in order to make the point that nothing about what they're going to do came from movies, books, or games. It was their own idea and the media they consumed was immaterial.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Discussed. Andre and Cal mock a distant friend and relative as this, saying how he's going to be dragged over the coals in the news after the massacre. Truth in Television, but this is actually a subversion as he has no role in the massacre itself, they just know he'll be a scapegoat.
    • Greg is a clearer example. He goes to prom with Cal and Rachael as friends, then he gets cruelly shot by Cal, after Andre promises not to kill him.
    • Cal is an In-Universe example, as he is not distinct to anyone in the story, even his own family. Only Andre and, to a much lesser extent, Rachael.
  • City with No Name: The main character's hometown and high school remain unnamed throughout the story (they even lampshade it at the beginning, simply calling the school "our school"), possibly to give the impression that such things can happen anywhere.
  • Cop Killer: It is only revealed on the supplemental website that Andre and Cal murdered the School Resource Officer. In the film itself this is averted when Cal talks Andre out of attacking the police and opting instead for suicide.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Andre cracks jokes quite a bit, even when killing people.
  • Deconstruction: One prevalent idea about school shootings is that perpetrators are mentally unstable and abnormal freaks who did what they did because of violent music, video games, neglectful parents, bullying or a combination of any of the aforementioned factors. The film takes this idea and tears it apart. The main characters look like perfectly normal teenage boys: they are intelligent, funny and good-looking, their regular clothes do not attract attention and their parents are loving and caring, if a little out of touch with them. The official website even reported that they had a decent sized circle of friends and were on good terms with many other students and that they were not singled out for bullying. Before their Zero Day, the boys decide to burn their possessions (books, CDs, DVDs, video games, notes) because they knew that everybody would scrutinize their belongings after their death and end up saying that they did it because they were influenced by scapegoated media. They insist that Zero Day was their idea, and that nobody influenced them.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: During the shooting spree, a student fleeing the carnage shouts "Fuck you" at Andre and Cal, much to their amusement.
  • Disappointed by the Motive: Invoked again and again. Cal repeatedly notes that Andre's parents don't beat him.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: With shades of Misplaced Retribution. Andre and Cal mention having been bullied, but the extent and severity is relegated to a handful of anecdotes (some of which happened while the pair were in middle school, years before their attack) and hardly warrants such a brutal massacre. None of the victims are bullies or jocks either, and in fact one - Gregg - was acquainted with the pair, a fact that does not spare him.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The boys talk about their murderous plan with a chilling calmness and even smile as they either point the gun towards the unseen audience or talk about the devastating effects their rampage will have on the community.
  • Downer Ending: Considering the topic of the film, it's not surprising at all.
  • Egging: Andre and Cal egg the house of Brad Huff, presumably a bully who they describe as everything wrong with the world in human form, although the original plan was to egg his Range Rover, as they both hated the car.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Andre and Cal apologize to their parents for their actions in their second to last tape.
  • Evil Gloating: Andre and Cal gloat as they prepare to shoot the other students.
  • Exact Words: Andre considers Gregg too pathetic to murder and says he (Andre) will let him live. Gregg is spared by Andre...only for Cal to murder him instead.
  • Expy: It takes explicit influence from the Columbine shooting.
    • Both characters are modeled after the real-life shooters.
      • Andre was clearly inspired by Eric Harris, as he is an intense, driven, militaristic boy with anger issues and a grandiose sense of purpose who dubs his petty vandalism acts "missions". Eric was also fond of German and liked to pepper his writings with German phrases, while Andre and his father are shown to be German speakers. He also names his shotgun like Eric and disparages previous school shooters as amateurs who will be outdone.
      • Just like Andre was inspired by Eric, the depressive, seemingly gentle Cal was inspired by Dylan Klebold. Like Dylan, Cal outwardly appears to be the follower and sees the plan as a way to commit a meaningful suicide and is therefore more lackadaisical about it. Cal, like Dylan, also went to their school prom shortly before the massacre was to take place. Their roles even switch during the massacre much like Eric and Dylan's did, with Andre becoming more focused and quiet and Cal becoming vocally terrifying.
    • Andre and Cal's video diaries are in turn heavily based on the "Basement Tapes," a series of video diaries by Klebold & Harris that altogether formed an outline of their agenda and state of mind. While the full content of the tapes has never been revealed to the public (and likely never will on account of them being destroyed for legal reasons), they've still garnered considerable notoriety for how thoroughly they outlined Klebold & Harris from both an ideological and a psychological perspective.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Cal, with his bright blond hair and boyish looks. Andre even teases him about it.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The teenagers drop hints that only the audience, who is aware of their plan, can comprehend. For example, in the graveyard episode, Cal jokingly says that he has an evil inside which he locks away and keeps from everyone.
    • The very first mission the boys do is to egg Brad Huff's car, but since his car isn't there, they change their plans and instead egg his house. This pragmatism comes back into play when the boys change the date of the massacre to May Day when they're unable to launch the attack on a day where it's zero degrees outside.
  • Found Footage Films: The whole film is based on the videos made by Cal and Andre, with the exception of the shooting itself, which is shown from the high school security cameras.
  • Freudian Excuse: Andre and Cal indicate that the massacre is due to the bullying they've gone through at school. The beginning of the film shows a small group of teens mocking a cornered Andre, who's listed as 12 years old at the time. Cal shares an anecdote with Rachel at one point how he was picked on in middle school by an older kid, and in the second to last tape Andre says he was called a faggot just because his shirt was from JCPenny.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Downplayed. Cal's friends and Rachel especially don't like Andre.
  • The Ghost: Brad Huff, the Jerk Jock that the two shooters hate the most, never appears on screen.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Inverted at one point when Cal jokes to his friend Rachel that he has a dark side he hides from everyone else. The audience already knows how much this isn't actually a joke.
    • During the bonfire scene, Andre brings an old note from a female classmate who liked him at one point. He quickly gets embarrassed when Cal reads it and destroys it before he can finish reading it out.
    • The official website makes several notes that aren't mentioned in the film:
      • That Andre was an active participant in the science club and participated in various after school activities.
      • Cal was diagnosed with ADD in third grade and given a Ritalin prescription that he stopped taking in freshman year. He also had an arrest for marijuana possession that was plead out and dropped.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The shooting takes place on May Day. Andre and Cal tried averting this by placing the massacre on the first day of the year where it would be zero degrees outside, but postpone it to May Day because Andre is sick on the one day it's zero degrees.
  • Hypocrite: Andre disparages other school shooters as sloppy attention whores with poorly thought out(or nonexistent) plans, and at one point scoffs at the idea of planning a specific date for a killing spree as irresponsible. Yet Andre and Cal's plan hinges on the risky burglary of Andre's cousin Chris, they only practice with their weapons once (the supplementary website even notes their inexperience with firearms likely saved lives), plan their attack for May Day when their original plan to do it on a day that's zero degrees falls through, and bequeath their extensive collection of tapes to CNN, implying they wanted the media to air them at least in part.
    • Hypocrisy Nod: Andre tells the viewers that in the aftermath of the attack they should respect their fellow man while acknowledging that it comes across as conceited coming from him.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Andre mentions he doesn't like Rachel because she thinks he's psycho, to which Cal retorts he is psycho considering their plans.
  • I Call It "Vera": "I call it Malayna." This is a reference to Eric Harris calling his shotgun Arlene.
  • Improv: The actors were encouraged to improvise throughout the filming of the movie.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Andre gets sick on Zero Day. It doesn't stop the massacre from happening, just elsewhere.
  • Informed Flaw: Andre is characterized by Cal's friend Rachel as an angry and standoffish person, but the only time (besides the shooting) Andre is shown displaying anger is when Cal causes them to get into a fight outside a poetry slam, and even then this anger stems from the fear of getting in trouble. It's possible Rachel is only saying this because her and Andre don't like each other and may stem from mutual jealousy.
  • Jerkass: Andre and Cal have their moments, but one standout example is where Cal goes to a poetry slam and purposefully antagonizes another person there, causing a fight. When Andre confronts him over how stupid and pointless this was, Cal sarcastically says "yes sir".
  • Jerk Jock: Brad, one of the students whom the main characters hate the most.
  • Karma Houdini: The main characters think Jerk Jock Brad Huff is one because he drinks and drives all the time and gets pulled over quite often, and yet never loses his license.
  • Last Disrespects: The end tape shows a group of teens burning a pair of memorial crosses set up for Andre and Cal.
  • Lonely Among People: It's implied that Cal and Andre are a case of this and Lonely Together. While they're shown having friends and enjoying good relationships with their family, ultimately the duo are closest with each other and before they embark on their killing spree they confide that they couldn't have done it without the other.
  • Meaningful Name: Andre's last name is Kriegman, which is German for "man of war". Calvin's last name is Gabriel, which could be a reference to his angelic appearance.
  • Motive Rant: Deconstructed. Technically this is the whole plot of the tapes, but what they're actually referring to (such as bullying) is never seen onscreen, and the fact that Cal and Andre seem at least kind of popular either contradicts or queries their stated motives by the power of Unreliable Narrator.
  • Murder-Suicide: Andre and Cal kill themselves after gunning down a dozen of their classmates.
  • New Media Are Evil / Murder Simulators: Defied. Andre and Cal burn all their movies, games, and books, because they know that their massacre will be blamed on their choice of media instead of themselves. They want Zero Day to be their own plan and nobody else's.
  • Never My Fault: Andre and Cal explicitly deny having responsibility for the attack, claiming they were molded to violence from bullying.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe:
    Cal: We're all animals.
  • Non-Answer: Many, many times. An especially literal example: when Andre asks Cal what he wants to say, the screen goes black.
  • Not Worth Killing: Andre deems Gregg too pathetic to kill and declares he will let him live. Cal decides otherwise and shoots him to death.
  • One-Way Trip: Cal is fully aware that he's going to leave the school in a black body bag. Andre does not share this view in the beginning, but later realizes there is no way they can escape.
  • Point of No Return: Andre jokingly says "Shit, we gotta do it now" after he and Cal burn all their games, movies, and books.
  • Police Are Useless: The cops never confront the boys and the two of them kill themselves and a dozen others as a result. This in unfortunately Truth in Television to the Columbine shootings, see below.
  • The Power of Friendship: In a twisted way, the shooting would never have happened if Andre and Cal hadn't have been friends. In their final tape, Andre and Cal mention that they wouldn't have been able to do it without the other.
  • Pretender Diss: At one point Andre disparages previous school shooters as amateurish attention whores.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The two perpetrators are opposites in terms of looks and personality, with Andre being the red oni and Cal the blue one. Even their portraits are color-coded as such. This dynamic plays into their unhealthy relationship, as Andre's emotional outbursts feed the otherwise placid and introverted Cal, and Cal's calm nature and ability to successfully manage Andre's anger helps Andre keep it together.
  • Refuge in Audacity: One of the victims not only manages to flee the pair successfully, not only shouts a parting "Fuck you", but also inexplicably grabs his backpack before fleeing. Andre and Cal find it hilarious and speculate the guy grabbed his backpack because there was weed in it and he didn't want to get in trouble.
  • Revenge: The gunmen's desire for revenge appears to stem from the fact that they were bullied, although to what extent is never shown aside from a short clip at the beginning.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • What exactly prompted the massacre is never fully explained. Andre and Cal mention some incidents of bullying, claim they were disrespected and insulted, and egg the house of a presumed Jerk Jock. However, they also have happy and healthy relationships with friends and family, and none of the people they kill are jocks or bullies (in fact, one of the people they kill is an acquaintance of theirs), making the motive of revenge feel like a shallow excuse. Considering their behavior during the massacre, it is more likely the killings were done more to live out sadistic inclinations, but again, it is never really explained where these impulses stem from.
    • Which of the two boys is the leader (or if neither are) is left ambiguous.
    • When showing off the tapes in Andre's safe deposit box near the end of the film, Cal notes they have thirty hours of footage. As the movie's runtime is obviously nowhere near that, it isn't known what's on the other tapes.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The film was inspired by the famous Harris/Klebold basement tapes. It contains certain similar scenes, such as when the main characters go over their arsenal or when they go to target practice.
    • During target practice, one of the minor characters says that Cal is a natural. To his comment, Andre adds the words natural selection, which Eric Harris, one of the Columbine shooters, believed in a Social Darwinist variant of. The day of the massacre, Harris wore a white T-shirt with the words printed on it.
    • The police never intervene in the massacre. This mirrors how the police set up a perimeter and waited three hours for a SWAT Team during the real life Columbine shootings, Eric and Dylan having killed themselves long before the police arrived.
    • The end of the movie follows a small group of teens ten days after the massacre who burn down a couple of crosses that were set up to pay respects to Andre and Cal alongside their 12 victims. This is in reference to the father of Columbine victim Daniel Rohrbough destroying the crosses put up to commemorate Eric and Dylan alongside the 13 victims of the massacre.
  • Sadist: Andre and Cal revel in their killing spree, stopping to taunt injured and panicked students and making jokes at their expense.
  • Samurai: Cal likens himself to a samurai, and at one point comments how they used to duel people who crossed them.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Andre and Calvin are burning all their possessions, a copy of Half-Life and Lord of the Flies are prominently featured. In the conversation leading up to this, Andre namedrops Mortal Kombat as an example of a video game people might blame for their behavior.
    • When Andre and Cal are looking over the guns Andre's father owns, Andre refers to one of the revolvers as a "Dirty Harry gun".
    • Andre brings a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doll to shoot during target practice.
    • Cal wears a Marilyn Manson shirt in one scene (no doubt a reference to him being wrongfully blamed for influencing the Columbine shooters).
  • Spree Killer: Andre and Calvin are both this.
  • Suicide by Cop: Subverted. Andre contemplates doing this, but is talked out of it by Cal.
  • Suicide Pact: Andre and Cal ultimately decide to go out this way to evade capture by the cops. After spending some time deliberating whether or not to pull the triggers after "1-2" or "1-2-3" (choosing the latter), they shoot themselves in the head with their rifles.
  • Teens Are Monsters: The shooters themselves.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: Cal and Andre are both probably this. They seem to base themselves a lot on terrorists but completely refuse any logical motive, though they seem to like spreading fear and chaos.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: It's repeatedly lampshaded, discussed, and invoked that Andre and Cal are completely unremarkable in appearance and demeanor, presenting themselves as normal teenagers flawlessly.
    Andre: We fooled everybody. I mean, even if we hadn't, could you blame them for not noticing? I mean who wants to think their son, their student, their classmate, their peer, their employee, could do something like that?
  • Those Wacky Nazis: While showing off their pipe bomb making, the boys splice in footage of a pattern of gunpowder in the shape of a swastika being lit up. Later on Cal presents a poem at a poetry slam with Nazi Germany as his chosen subject matter.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: There are implications that Andre is functioning this way to Cal. Cal's friend Rachael notes that whenever Andre and him are together, Cal starts acting like Andre. However, this is played with, as Cal is shown to have as much power over Andre as vice versa, so who - if anyone - is the "true" force behind the massacre? Cal, for instance, is pissed by Rachael's answer and insists he's actually the one in control.
  • Video Wills: The final tape recorded by the main characters can be seen as this.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Various scenes show the boys (mostly Cal) doing mundane things with friends and family, such as getting braces removed or going to parties, presumably to drive home the point that these two could be anyone.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The main characters portray themselves this way, though their actions demonstrate that they're mostly in it just to live out their violent fantasies. They claim that they're going to go to their school and kill as many fellow students as they can in order to give a wake-up call to the community and to teach people what they should value. At one point, Andre defines that as the most respectful and caring thing someone could do.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: Defied. Andre and Cal preemptively reject the notion that their attack is a meaningless tragedy.
    Cal: Don't just waste this opportunity, don't just say that these people's lives were lost for nothing,'s just stupid, just wake up.
    Andre: We're not trying to waste anybody's life, we're trying to show people what they should value.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Andre and Cal make a big deal about the pipe bombs they're building, even giving a how-to guide on screen. When the massacre happens, there are no bombs, which is never explained. The supplemental website does mention that the pipe bombs were used offscreen, however.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Unfortunately for the shooters' female victims.
  • You Will Be Spared: When Greg begs for his life, Andre laughs, and promises that he won't kill him, saying that he's too pathetic to kill. Cal kills him instead.