There are definitely cinephiles roaming about who adore Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson’s I Declare War. I am not one of those people. It won Best Picture and Best Screenplay at the 2012 ActionFest and the Audience Award at last year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, so there’s definitely an audience for it. While I can appreciate what the film is attempting, I also don’t think it fully works, and it’s honestly a movie that fits better in a festival setting than at a matinee showing at a theater. As an exercise in small-scale, low-budget filmmaking, the movie is somewhat impressive. However, these same limitations — as well as some muddled ideas and a lack of onscreen talent — ultimately hamstring the movie.
I Declare War is predicated on a simple scenario, throwing the audience into a “war” between young tweens, playing in the woods after school, battling it out with sticks and water balloons. The film often jumps into the kid’s imaginations, as lumber turns into machine guns and bazookas. At the center of this battle is PK (Gage Munroe), an undefeated general, war-history nerd and apparent master strategist who wants to win, but only fair and square by the handful of rules set in place. Unfortunately, not all the other kids abide by the rules of the game, like Skinner (Michael Friend), an angry boy who takes prisoners and is at times surprisingly sadistic.
The film starts off as an obvious — and fairly heavy-handed — commentary on the horrors of war, as laws and rules are in place for something that’s naturally and innately horrific. But I Declare War can only get so much mileage out of this flimsy premise, and the film slowly transitions to preteen drama. In many ways, the movie’s on much stronger footing in this sense, at least when it’s not copying The Lord of the Flies. The teenage daydream conversations that the movie’s only female character, Jess (Mackenzie Munro), has with her crush Quinn (Aidan Gouveia) are surprisingly clever. At the same time, the jealousy between PK, Skinner and PK’s best friend Kwon (Siam Yu) is realistic. Still, the characters only feel sketched in, and the talent’s too often on the level of high-school drama club — they’re simply incapable of creating any palpable emotional connection. Combine this with some unspectacular direction, and the film just doesn’t do much for me, though you may think differently. Not Rated.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas