Directed by Gus Van Sant. USA. 2003.
The camera is a detached observer, and the strength of the film lies in its acute power of observation and detail. Van Sant shows us all the surface rituals: the girl cheerleaders, the boys playing football, the locker-lined hallways, the academic discussions, yet an ineffable feeling of loneliness pervades. The film is impeccably acted by a group of non-professional actors from the Portland, Oregon area. Each character is introduced separately and we see them going about their business on a seemingly ordinary school day. The steadicam-tracking camera follows them as they walk through the sterile halls that seem endless. The school appears without life-a place where one feels a desperate sense of loss.
John (John Robinson) is a blonde-haired surfer type who takes over driving from his father who has had too much to drink, then is called to task by an administrator for being late. Eli is a photographer who asks classmates, including John to pose for pictures. Football player Jordan (Jordan Taylor) meets his girlfriend Carrie (Carrie Finklea) for lunch. Three friends Nicole (Nicole George), Brittany (Brittany Mountain), and Acadia (Alicia Miles) gossip and argue about who is whose best friend. Michelle (Kristen Hicks) refuses to wear shorts, is admonished by her teacher, and then goes to work in a library. The paths of these students crisscross throughout the film and each has their own destiny to fulfill when the violence erupts.
The main protagonists,
Alex (Alex Frost) and Eric (Eric Deulen) are modeled after Alex Harris
and Dylan Klebold of Columbine. When we first meet Alex, he is being shunned
by his fellow students, called names and pelted with spitballs in Science
class. Alex is more outgoing and creative, Eric more passive, but their
personalities complement each other. Alex and Eric wait at home until a
strange package arrives in the mail while Alex plays Beethoven's haunting
Fur Elise on the piano. When they return to school, they are dressed in
combat gear and tell everyone they meet to stay away from school. The pacing
is superb, slowly building up the tension. When it is released, it comes
at you with a frightening energy that is as unforgettable as it is chilling.
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