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Film / Zero Day

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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:

  • 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:
    • Played straight with Greg; 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, a student runs out of the room shouting "Fuck you!" to Andre and Cal, and lives. The second time, Andre mocks the last person alive for not having any last words or so much as a plea for help before gunning him down.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Disappointed by the Motive: Invoked again and again. Cal repeatedly notes that Andre's parents don't beat 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.
  • 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.
      • 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. 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 Ghost: Brad Huff, the Jerk Jock that the two shooters hate the most, never appears on screen.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, now we have to do it" after he and Cal burn all their games, movies, and books.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sadist: Andre and Cal revel in their killing spree, stopping to taunt injured and panicked students and making jokes at their expense.
  • Samurai: Cal considers himself a kind of high school samurai.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Andre and Calvin are burning all their possessions, a copy of Half-Life and Lord of the Flies are prominently featured.
    • 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.
  • 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 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. Assuming the extent to which this film is inspired by Columbine, if it follows the Columbine pattern, there are pipe bombs, they simply don't go off.
  • 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.