Damn Hollywood for making me think my childhood was ten times more badass than it really was, but at the same time, God bless its boundary-less ability to enhance even the most mundane activity. In the case of I Declare War, directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson turn a simple game of capture the flag into an all-out war with children toting sub-machine guns, throwing grenades, and shooting laser beams out of their eyes. Don’t worry, it all makes sense as the visuals are technically just the overactive imaginations of each character. The kids aren’t actually killing one another, but the presentation of true weaponry is necessary when conveying certain themes, throwing children into the dog days of war while proving their strategic game is far more than child’s play.
In the game of “War,” the rules are simple. If you get shot, you have to count off up to “10 steamboat” before you can get back up again. If you get tagged with a grenade (red liquid filled water balloon), you’re dead – go home. The winner is crowned when one team captures the other team’s flag. It’s that simple as far as the rules go, but the game is much more treacherous. With friendships on the line and emotions running high, PK (Gage Munroe) takes charge for what should be another easy victory for his squad. Rival general Quinn (Aidan Gouveia) is sick of losing though, and has a few tricks up his sleeve, even if he’s stuck with a girl on his team. But when PK’s best friend Kwon (Siam Yu) gets taken hostage by the other team, the rules become blurry and PK jumps into action. Can he rescue Kwon and win the game simultaneously? Or will PK have to bury his pride for the good of his best friend.
But I Declare War is no action film. No, no, no – far from it.
I Declare War brings us back to a time where boys will be boys, friendship was everything, and nights were spent with your best buds eating pizza and playing video games. There were no icky girls to complicate anything or get in the way of the most ultimate chill sessions ever – but war brings out the worst in people. Not only the worst, but it brings out people’s true colors, revealing aspects of others you might wish you’d never uncovered. As General PK so eloquently puts it, “This is War, man! This isn’t fucking Hopscotch!”
Throughout the game, all our characters are tested in some way, be it past friendships that have now been severed, or the introduction of that evil siren who mesmerizes every boy with her soft stare and gentle affections. But the lessons learned about true friendship are the more prevalent and poignant themes addressed by the “War” game, telling a dark truth about human nature. The usage of children to tell Lapeyre’s story works brilliantly because the hardcore military atmosphere strips them of their assumed innocence, being able to establish mature thematics hidden in tiny bodies and imaginative minds.
Not only was I surprised by how heavy I Declare War becomes, descending into battle-fueled madness the lil’ Donato in me never, ever could have conjured up, but our pint-sized cast did a spectacular job balancing the line between playful adolescence and war-crazy lunacy. I really don’t want to rip any of these kids apart because they’re so young, and luckily I don’t have to, but stand-outs Gage Munroe (PK), the twisted Mackenzie Munro (Jess), antagonist Micheal Friend (Skinner), and comedic relief Alex Cardillo (Frost) depicted specific childhood problems that bring back too many memories. The betrayal of your BFF, being a social outcast, falling for a girl only to have her make advances on your best friend – shit, growing up was hard.
But growing up was also full of wonder, creativity, discovery, and strategic maneuvering. If you think about it, life was essentially “War,” as we tried to make our way through adolescence without too many battles. This never worked of course, and we spend so much time on petty bickering and false hopes – but it’s all part of growing up.
I Declare War is a heartfelt, nostalgic trip that trickily addresses larger issues about human nature through the actions of children playing a simple game. When you sit there and catch glimpses of the kids running around with modified sticks and branches, you feel like you’re watching a silly story about kids being kids, but then when the wilds of war kick in and explosions are going off all around our “soldiers,” the tone shifts tremendously towards a true battle epic. It’s no Saving Private Ryan, and luckily there’s no gore or silliness in that respect, but there’s a beautiful metaphor at play here – one that’s unexpected and all too pertinent.
I Declare War uses children to address issues that plague all generations, lulling you into a sense of creativity and wonder, only to lay some pretty heavy storylines that make our characters seem years beyond their true ages.