Fantastic Fest ’12: I Declare War – Review


Kids discover war is hell in this effortlessly entertaining comedy

Kids can be little shits. This is an unspoken truth that all adults know and acknowledge deep inside. We know and acknowledge this fact because, as children, we were little shits too. I Declare War is a wonderfully truthful film about children playing war. The movie, featuring an all-child cast, is not afraid to depict children as they really are – selfish, greedy, stupid and borderline psychotic. In other words, children are just smaller version of adults – possessing the same faults their parents do. In depicting children pretending to be adults, the film holds a mirror up to both generations – pointing out that when kids act like adults, they are just acting like adults acting like kids.

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 is the entirety of the film – two competing groups of kids trying to capture the other’s flag and “killing” as many of the opposing team as they can using paint-filled water balloons. Using slick Hollywood-inspired camera moves, special effects and a heap of prop guns, the filmmakers bring the children’s fantasy to live and put the audience in the 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 and strategize. Munro acts in a category far beyond what her experience or age may suggest. Each child has their own motivation for being in the war most of these motivations are exposed and explored throughout the course of the game.

All of the film’s child actors effortlessly sell the film – even through some of its wackier ideas. Being a peak into the childlike imagination of a group of children, I Declare War trades in war movie clichés but uses this tried and true structure to occasionally catch audiences by surprise when it suddenly decides to stretch out of any expectations the film may have accrued.

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.

I Declare War is an often surprising film that parents will want to share with their children. The movie is an absolute blast and a highlight of Fantastic Fest.

Director: Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson
Notable Cast: Siam Yu, Gage Munroe and Michael Friend
Writers: Jason Lapeyre