Review: I Declare War

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I Declare War

I have very fond memories from when I was a kid of exploring the trails and vast wooded acres behind the house my grandparents lived in, alongside my cousins (and our friends who often found an excuse to come spend weekends with us because there was also a massive pond for swimming in the summer). We didn't often play things like Capture the Flag, but occasionally we were allowed to use my grandma's gigantic camcorder to make silly commercials and short movies.

Those summer days of my youth came flashing back to me during I Declare War, a clever Canadian reimagination of young kids playing war games in the woods, which won the Audience Award last year at Fantastic Fest.

The movie jumps us right into action, with two teams deep into another round of competition against one another. One side is headed up by PK Sullivan (Gage Munroe), a take-charge leader whose winning strategies come in part from his frequent viewings of Patton. The other side is initally led by Quinn (Aidan Gouveia), who is quickly overtaken by a devious boy named Skinner (Michael Friend) who runs a coup to prove he can outwit PK and lead his friends to a triumphant victory. The only problem is that Skinner actually has a personal score to settle with PK and he's not above breaking the established rules of the game to win.

It's possible that some viewers will find the action depicted a bit difficult to stomach. While the movie sets up that the kids are actually using tree branches, rocks and paint-filled balloons, the audience views the majority of battle sequences with the young actors (who appear to be no older than 13 or so) brandishing assualt weapons, handguns, rocket launchers and grenades. Co-directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson have said that they did not intend to make any statement about young people and weapons. In fact, the press kit for the film quotes Lapeyre as saying, "We wanted to tell a story about how intensely young people feel things and how each moment is life or death at that age." 

There is an overall charming element in I Declare War that clearly shows the level of fantasy involved, softening the impact of seeing these young kids in a violent context. One character frequently shows his disdain for his fellow warriors by imagining that he can blow them up by staring at them when they make him angry. In another twist, Quinn's team includes a girl named Jess (Mackenzie Munro) who understands all too well that she can easily distract any of these boys to get her way, even if that means just using it to get some quiet time to wander through the woods and daydream conversations with an idealized version of what Quinn is like in her head.

Still, with scenes of torture and occasional heavy violence, it's not a film that will likely be viewed by too many people who are the same age as the cast. 

I Declare War opens on Friday at the Alamo Slaughter Lane and is also available now on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and Cable VOD.  

Austin connections: As mentioned, the movie won the Audience Award at Fantastic Fest 2012 and is being released by local distributor Drafthouse Films.