[This is a repost of our previous review on this film. I Declare War hits theaters this Friday.]
Odds are, if you’re a guy you probably remember playing war with your friends. You and a bunch of your pals get together and let your imaginations transport you to a raging battlefield, where sticks are assault rifles, branches are bazookas, and water balloons are grenades. I Declare War is a look at an afternoon game of capture the flag as seen through the eyes of a child. It’s a nostalgic look at the games we played, albeit more extreme than most, and a reminder of how brutal kids can be.
Directed by Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson, the film takes place entirely in a forest battlefield, and hops back and forth between the two warring teams. For the most part, what the viewer sees is what the children are imagining, so instead of a slingshot we see a deadly crossbow. From time to time the kids will be pulled out of their fantasy for various reasons, and with that, we are as well. This provided and even more interesting dynamic throughout the film, as it starts to uncover the real world concerns and turmoil the kids are going through.
The film feels very much like a cross between Lord of the Flies and Stand By Me or The Goonies, a comparison that many are making and rightfully so. It’s an allegorical film that doesn’t try to veil its message despite the sometimes silly dialogue and situations. As serious as the kids try to be, we’re always reminded that they are, in fact, kids, which makes the overall tone feel humorous yet disturbing.
While much of I Declare War plays out like a traditional war film, with no content before or after the battle, there’s still a sense of complexity. Every break in the fantasy and every slip of dialogue that snaps them back into reality has weight and feels deliberate.
One scene that stands out involves a newcomer to the group named Wesley. Throughout the first two acts, his gun remains a toy while everyone else’s looks real. As he begins to let the fantasy take hold, his weapon turns real, along with the giant stationary gun positioned at their base.
Unfortunately, the poor performances from the cast cause some of the more dramatic moments feel less effective. It’s always difficult to criticize child acting, but it’s one of the biggest issues in this film.
While this may be an exaggerated version of what it’s like to play war for most kids, I applaud the directors for not holding back or walking on eggshells when it comes to the content. In order to drive the idea home there has to be some bloodshed, even if it’s make believe. That being said, it still wouldn’t be surprising to see some people condemning this movie because of the violence and language from the children.
I Declare War is an extremely fun, sometimes dark indie that harkens back to the days when kids portrayed on film actually went on adventures. It’s a reminder of how turbulent adolescence can be, and that children can be cruel. Though the acting can be rough and it’s a little heavy-handed at times, the entertaining plot and general ridiculousness of it all makes up for its few shortcomings.