Film Review: I Declare War

When getting nostalgic about our childhood, we may remember hopscotch, hide-and-go-seek or hanging out on the monkey bars. In I Declare War, a small brigade of 13-year-old kids instead concern themselves with the regulations of war. But as in real life, the rules are far too easily broken.Opening to an innocuous battle of team against team, fearless leader PK (Gage Munroe) is looking to take his side to victory once again. He is a skilled tactician, never content with anything less than success. But when a coup places power-hungry Skinner (Michael Friend) into the opposition post, the film takes a brutal turn.Soon, PK’s best friend Kwon (Siam Yu) is taken hostage, while soldiers from both sides begin dropping like flies. The firefight becomes entirely real—kids begin unleashing live rounds, rather than the water balloons that were used previously.Each child brings with them a different objective—a wish to avenge fallen leaders, right past wrongs, or simply make friends. The battle inevitably exposes the betrayal, jealousy and longing that comes with entering the teen years. With such a large cast of young actors, it is impressive how well each one portrays the rapid-fire emotions of battle.The strength of the film is undoubtedly the concept. It is enthralling to watch a childish game of Capture the Flag become something far more sinister. The escalation may be mainly fuelled by imagination, but the film hints at the acclimatisation to violence that children are now privy to.The grisly realities of battle are fully exposed, and on a basic level, the innocents are seen smoking, swearing and acting upon racial prejudice when taking prisoners of war. It’s remarkably eerie to see a bunch of kids treating playtime as a matter of life or death. It’s also kind of brilliant.The worry with a film like this is that it will leave you unrelentingly cynical about the world. However, I Declare War is tempered with wry humour and some pretty clever dialogue that lightens the mood.Visually, directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson have reproduced the hallmarks of jungle warfare—platoons fighting each other and the terrain with a backdrop of green and brown. I Declare War won’t be the most beautiful film of this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, but the gritty look reinforces the realistic quality crafted by the duo.I Declare War occupies the same filmic space as Lord of the Flies, or even The Hunger Games. It is proof that when given the right ammunition, children can (and will) replicate the atrocities of the adult world.I Declare War is one of 13 films featuring in this year’s Next Gen program, as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival. MIFF runs from July 25 to August 11. For more information and details on how to buy tickets visit Ashleigh McMillan

July 4th 2013
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