MRR Review: "I Declare War"

Photo Credit: Music Box Films

MRR Review: "I Declare War"

Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 94 minutes
Release Date: Apr. 15, 2012
Directed by: Jason Lapeyre, Robert Wilson
Genre: Action/Comedy/Drama

Week after week, P.K. (Gage Munroe) and his best buddy Kwon (Siam Yu) gather with a group of friends in the woods to do battle against Quinn (Aidan Gouveia) and his cohorts in what is usually a skilled but harmless game of pretend war. P.K. is a particularly gifted leader and strategist due to his obsession with the film "Patton" and the many books about war he has read. He has a long winning streak for his team, something that he is very proud of and works hard each week to defend.

One random weekend, Skinner (Michael Friend), tired of losing to P.K., stages a coup and overthrows Quinn as leader of the group. The poor boy is obviously suffering from some kind of emotional issues but doesn't seem to be able to deal with them outside of the game. He decides to try and match P.K. blow for blow, even going so far as to kidnap Kwon and bring him over to his team's camp for questioning. Meanwhile, the deposed Quinn is surprised by the attention he is getting from the only female in the group, Jess (Mackenzie Munro), who seems to be devising a coup of her own by using her growing influence over boys.

When P.K. realizes that Kwon is gone, he must decide whether to rescue him and risk defeat, or leave him in the enemy camp to keep his winning streak intact. When an unhinged Skinner threatens to torture Kwon for real, the game takes a decidedly dark and very adult turn, and suddenly the children are forced to make some very adult decisions. In these scenes, the stick guns and rock grenades the kids use are suddenly visualized as real guns and grenades, as they would appear in the minds of the teens playing the game. Only the audience can see the real weapons, but it is an effective tactic that shows just how high the stakes are, even if the game being played isn't a real war.

Scenes that feature adults behaving badly with guns are a dime a dozen in movies, but scenes of children doing the same thing are fairly uncommon, especially if said guns are real. Though the weapons the children handle in "I Declare War" are not real, when directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson switch gears to show what the kids would look like with real weapons instead of their fake ones, it is completely jarring. When the kids are playing their war games with sticks and stones, it looks like a harmless game that is actually fun and has a few funny moments in it to give some levity. Fun and games turn to horror quickly when the film shows the kids with real AK-47s because in the minds of the kids, this is what the game looks like. When one of the combatants pretends to shoot another, in his mind he is shooting a real gun, not a stick gun. This difference between imagination and reality is stunning to watch and will likely make audience members think twice the next time they see neighborhood kids, or perhaps their own kids, engaging in a war game.

Lapeyre not only co-directed the film with Wilson, he also wrote the script, which gives him a clear vision of what the movie is supposed to be. He could just as easily turned the film into an anti-war screed or tried to sound preachy, but he didn't go that route. Instead, he leaves the interpretation of the film largely up to the audience and presents some of the more chilling scenes of kids with guns without any real comment. This is a way of asking the audience to draw their own conclusions about what implied meaning or message the film has. Though viewer interpretations will probably vary, one obvious conclusion is that the loss of innocence is definitely one of the underlying themes. Sure this is just a game, but the hurt feelings and broken friendships that result from the skirmish are very real. These are wounds that may never really heal, just as with the real, much larger-scale wounds of real war.

Getting one or two teen or preteen actors to do a good job in a film is a challenge, but getting no less than a dozen to do a universally good job is even harder. Somehow, the film's creators managed to cast a good set of actors who worked well together and are completely believable in their roles. Munroe is a particular standout, and not just because she is the only female. She stands out for doing a great job of using her feminine wiles at such a young age without coming across as too mature. As with everything else in the film, her performance is nicely balanced and is just one of the many elements that makes "I Declare War" a wholly original film unlike anything else in theaters.

Rating: 3 out of 5