Kids can be little jerks. This is an unspoken truth that all adults know and acknowledge deep inside because, as children, we were little jerks too.
I Declare War is a wonderfully simple film that packs a mighty message - the difference between a child and an adult can be smaller than you think. The movie features an all-child cast but it is not afraid to depict children as they can really be – selfish, greedy, stupid and borderline psychotic. In other words, children are just smaller version of adults – possessing the same faults that their parents do. By stripping the film's characters of any fake Hollywood precociousness, the children of I Declare War are some of the most real, most memorable child characters to populate a film since the heyday of '80s kids films - the '80s.
Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson co-direct the Canadian film, a no-frills story of a group of children who spend a summer afternoon engaging in a game of capture the flag. This game makes up the entirety of the film – two competing groups of kids trying to capture the other’s flag and “kill” as many of the opposing team as they can though the use of paint-filled water balloons. These are kids raised on too many war movies and an overabundance of imagination. Using slick Hollywood-inspired camera moves, special effects and a heaping of prop guns, the filmmakers bring the children’s fantasy to life and tell the story through perspective of the neighborhood kids. Sticks and twigs become real guns, balloons are grenades and a game truly becomes a matter of life and death for these imaginative children.
I Declare War’s greatest strength is its cast of children. The cast is made up of some of the best child actors assembled for a single movie since Bugsy Malone. Michael Friend is Skinner, a violent child who frags his general and takes control of his own army. Seeking revenge for a personal slight against the general of the opposing team, Friend, as Skinner, is a genuinely scary little kid. On the other hand, Jess (Mackenzie Munro) isn’t fighting for fame or glory – she hopes to impress a boy she has a crush on. As the only girl playing, Jess is not above using her unique advantage to manipulate her pre-pubescent playmates. There is the contemplative child who engages in religious debates, the psychotic bully who fantasizes about blowing up squirrels with heat vision and two best friends whose bond is tested by one's willingness to win the game at whatever cost. All of the film’s child actors effortlessly sell the film's realism – even as the directors follow childhood imagination through to some of its stranger variations.
By offering a glimpse into the childlike imagination of a group of children, I Declare War heavily utilizes war movie clichés but, in doing so, uses these tried and true structures to occasionally catch audiences by surprise. The juxtaposition of the clichés and the novel setting keep audiences guessing just how far some of these kids are willing to go.
I Declare War is a movie starring children but it isn’t necessarily a children’s movie. Thanks to a script by Lapeyre (and enhanced through consultation with the child actors), the film’s characters speak like actual children. They use four-letter words, get particularly nasty when bullying each other and have a deep and abiding passion for scatological humor. While the script is a bit rough around the edges for parents who may be concerned about exposing their children to course humor, there is nothing that isn’t already being spoken on the playground. The film features language that is very much adult and humor that would not be out of place in a Judd Apatow comedy but for kids that are mature enough to handle adult language, there are some important lessons that can be gleamed.
Tickets are now on sale for I Declare War. The film opens Friday, August 30 at Vintage Park for an exclusive weeklong run.