Fantastic Fest 2012: Youths prepare for battle in ‘I Declare War’

I Declare War
Directed by Jason Lapeyre, Robert Wilson
Written by Jason Lapeyre
Canada, 2012

Youth imagination and violence reaches newer-ish peaks with Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson’s I Declare War, a film that will instantly be compared to the likes of The Hunger Games, Battle Royale, and potentially The Lord of the Flies. While War is seemingly more influenced by the aura of pubescent jealously and betrayal, its core concept of youngsters brutally battling it out is far too familiar to ignore. There’s both good and bad spread throughout the picture, but the film’s most pleasing trait revolves around the believable relationships that the kids maintain. The filmmakers aren’t pushing the envelope as aggressively as one might think, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility for any of these youngsters to appears on the news one day. A film that should appeal to a wide-range of demographics, War casts an odd net that is equal parts absorbing, horrific and pedestrian.

I Declare War follows a group of nerdy friends playing capture the flag in the forest as the audience views the game through their eyes. Playful imagination and a simple set of rules is substituted with machines guns, grenades, mortars and bazookas as the quest for victory is now a game of life and death. The scrawny wavy-haired PK (Gage Munroe) leads “the good side” with best buddy Kwon (Siam Yu) against rival foes Skinner and Quinn (even the names are hilarious); each side grasping for control while taking on a win-at-any-cost attitude. The film is littered with war-film cliches and stabs at authentic strategy that elevate the proceedings. In an attempt to reduce exposition, the opening credits let us in on the rules of this particular game of war.

Though the repetitiveness of the narrative may be a bit too much, War is at its best when the violence is minimal. Crude small-talk and low-level philosophical inquires are played for laughs, but capture the boredom and restlessness of this particular war. The banter is sometimes unconvincing, but the young actors mostly do a good job of selling it (mostly Munroe and Michael Friend in the role of Skinner). PK fancies himself the famous General George S. Patton and models his strategies after Napoleon, subtly calling into the question the role of leadership and how it can be abused in the wrong hands (the film’s obvious theme). While I Declare War is far from a revelation, the film is just novel enough that its mild diversions entertain more than they preach, and that’s refreshing.

Ty Landis

Fantastic Fest runs from September 20 – September 27th.

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