For all its imagination, I Declare War still boils down to a bunch of child actors running around the woods and yelling at one another. While that basic limitation is never fully overcome, the highly anticipated (at least among neighborhood kids) Capture The Flag showdown between the undefeated PK (Gage Munroe) and respected challenger Quinn (Aidan Gouveia) still manages to entertain and make some substantial statements in the process.
Their nationality revealed only by a stray “aboot” and one “eh,” for these Canadian preteens the game isn’t mere fun. In their hands, a stick wrapped with duct tape becomes a sniper rifle and a slingshot is a crossbow. Though seemingly one-note, the motif of these homemade devices morphing to perceived firearms stays surprisingly fresh as directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson consistently feature them in new and exciting ways.
Likewise elevating their usage is the mostly natural style with which the kids take on familiar war movie roles. Names like Joker (Spencer Howe) and Frost (Alex Cardillo) fit in well next to the innocent, gullible alter boy Wesley (Andy Reid) and the mysterious Caleb (Kolton Stewart), a silent quasi-spirit walker who roams the woods with his husky. These are kids familiar with Patton and combat history, after all, and the names and wardrobe they adopt make it feel a bit like Platoon with kids. Part of this role-playing, however, is excessive cursing and plentiful dick references. Such chatter adds to the uber-masculine setting, but often comes out forced, as if the kids haven’t yet worked the words into their everyday vocabulary.
Reminders that these are indeed children become valuable when the concept of war threatens to extend beyond a simple game. Following an intense but still harmless introductory death, I Declare War takes a serious turn when Skinner (Michael Friend) stages a coup, relieves Quinn of his command, and introduces actual violence into the equation. Neglecting the rules, the day in the woods becomes far more adult and more interesting with his sadistic plan underway. Of a lesser but still noteworthy maturity are the raging hormones, brought about by the involvement of a lone girl, Jess (Mackenzie Munroe). Though several quality jokes arise in the boys’ lack of feminine knowledge, her standout moments occur through make-believe conversations with crush Quinn as she wanders the woods, exchanges both poignant and heartbreaking.
A premise ripe for shaky camerawork, Lapeyre and Wilson blessedly keep the picture steady and, considering the minuscule budget, keep the special effects from looking painfully cheap. In this setting, childhood themes of friendship, being a good sport, and following the rules ring true without feeling too contrived. These concepts wouldn’t be nearly as thorough without a youthful cast, but even with the unrefined talent, I Declare War gets the job done.
I Declare War is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.