Directed by Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson
Philadelphia Film Festival
Inevitable comparisons to Lord of the Flies or Battle Royale aside, Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson’s ‘kids-in-war’ film is a moderately successful drama. Clunky as a commentary, I Declare War is rather strong as a meditation on social cliques.
PK (Gage Munroe) has won the last several wars. He’s a legend and his men mostly know it. But when a new war rival Quinn (Aidan Gouveia) challenges him, PK and his soldiers will be tested. There’s also an X-factor in their midst. Jess (Mackenzie Munro) has her own agenda.
The big draw of I Declare War is the imaginative play between reality and fantasy. Tied together sticks become guns with a well-placed edit. Water balloons filled with paint become grenades with an explosion sound effect.
Sure, it’s a testament and celebration of the childhood imagination, but if all that these kids invent is weaponry and blood then it’s also a worrisome childish fantasy world.
I Declare War takes a huge risk with a cast consisting solely of kids. It’s successful at times. The contrast between a carefree attitude and the play (and real) violence is stronger. Other times, the film requires too much suspension of disbelief.
Unlike other kid-centric films (think The Goonies, et al) the children in I Declare War have to largely act like adults. When they aren’t doing so the performances are by and large believable. But those dramatic, “war” moments ring almost entirely false.
It’s a shame. When the film works it’s great fun to watch. And when it works best is not when Lapeyre and Wilson hammer home an allegory, but when the comparison point to the war is simply that of childhood friendship. These moments – mostly involving Quinn, Jess, and PK’s right-hand man Kwon (Siam Yu), are more heartfelt than anything the fake violence can conjure up.
– Neal Dhand
The Philadelphia Film Festival celebrates 21 years and runs from October 18 to October 28, 2012. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please see the Philadelphia Film Society’s official site.