|This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon V in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my festival reviews.|
It's certainly an interesting concept, but I'm not sure how well it's explored in this film, which runs a long 75 minutes, accompanied by a neatly contrasting soundtrack of polite electronica and light opera. What we're given is a selection of extracts from these murder fantasies, some tantalisingly brief and some disturbingly protracted, broken up by the thoughts and musings of the people who conjured them up to begin with. While these are obviously edited carefully to provide progression, any direction is kept off camera. Kosakowski remains unseen and we don't see or hear any of the questions that he asked, merely the answers he received, combined together in such a way that themes appear to emerge on their own as we find our own meanings from this material. The furthest he goes is to edit it and stack it in a particular order, but it's still very open to debate as to whether there's any consensus to be found. What I saw may not be what you'll see.
Initially there doesn't seem to be much of anything in common with the various fantasies beyond the fact that someone dies in every one of them. Certainly it was the differences that leapt out at me first. Some are brutal exercises in aggression through power, while others are passive, polite ways to kill. Some are dreams of long standing, outlined in minute detail, with others more vague in concept, maybe built reactively from the idea posed. Some are personal, the targets being ex-girlfriends, family members or those who caused an abiding response of some sort, but some are random attacks on complete strangers. Some spring from morbid intellectual curiosity, while others are emotional to the core. While this ought to be about the act of murder itself, some folk are apparently unable to see past a particular victim. Most surprisingly, while most interviewees take the expected role of killer, some place themselves into the role of the victim instead.
Perhaps that's the point. Art is a subjective creature, which at its best ceases to be about the art and the artist and becomes about the viewer. Perhaps the point is to confront us with death in a hundred different ways and hope that it sparks something in us. Well, no light bulbs lit up above my head watching this film and much of it was predictable. Personalities matched methodologies according to clear patterns. Extroverted and emotional people get up close and personal, visible killers who want their victims to see them before they die. Introverted but driven murderers stay at a distance or hide what they're doing. I didn't find a lot of surprises in any of that. A farmer who is an experienced killer of animals has intellectual curiosity about how it might feel to extend that to human beings, but he found what he expected and so did I. Those with childhood traumas get to explore how it affected them, such as the eight year old who saw his grandfather hanged.
If I found anything new, it was in the more topical choices of approach. One woman takes on the role of a terrorist, putting on a burqa and strapping explosives to herself before walking out into a busy public area. These moments stretched for me. I watched bystanders and passers by carrying on with their lives without any knowledge of what was about to happen. I also watched the woman compose herself and find an inner peace before pressing her button. This particular scenario stood out for me, perhaps because in most of them there's a clear ending where the victims know what is going to happen and why, but here there's nothing. One moment, there are many people living their lives, but the next those lives are stopped entirely. I found it very tough to place myself into the roles of the victims in this scenario because they're blissfully unaware that they're even going to be victims. Most of these scenarios are simple, this one is deceptively complex.
Zero Killed is so named for a few reasons, not only as the meaning of the abbreviation OK, as used in military dispatches after combat to highlight no casualties, but to make it clear to us that what we see is fake, imaginary, hypothetical. While we watch a large number of gruesome deaths, not one person was killed in the making of the film or since, to the best of my knowledge, at least not at the hands of these fantasists, but the school shooter hammered home questions about whether that might ever happen. It's constantly notable how cheerful, down to earth and normal these folk are, but a few do seem to warrant a more careful look. How thin is that boundary between fantasy and reality, after all? It's in this aspect that the film really turns around on the viewer and prompts us to evaluate what we're watching and what our reactions are. In a world where thinking about a crime is frequently conflated with committing it, suddenly this feels dangerous.
Unfortunately, such thought really stems from the very existence of this picture more than from anything that unfolds within it. While it started well and posed interesting questions in surprising ways, my interest lapsed about half an hour in. Almost by definition, it became highly repetitive and the reuse of music, as enjoyable as that was, added to that feeling. Clearly I wasn't alone, as the people leaving the theatre where I first saw it wasn't en masse as a reaction to one moment, but a gradual trickle as they decided individually that they just didn't want to watch it any more. Watching again, at home, outside the boundaries of a film festival, I found it easier to remain on board, but my interest still lapsed. Paradoxically, the longer reenactments run, the more boring they become but the less easy it is to ignore their content; yet the more this happens, the easier it is for our eyes to drift away and find something, anything else to focus on. That's not good.