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Drafthouse’s I Declare War dramatizes a game of war as a feature length film. One that offers some of the tropes of any wartime movie, but mostly focuses on the kids who take the game seriously. So seriously that they’re willing to torture and kidnap their fellow opponents — who should be friends.

The Players

  • Director: Jason Lapeyre, Robert Wilson
  • Screenwriter: Jason Lapeyre
  • Cast: Siam Yu, Kolton Stewart, Gage Munroe, Michael Friend, Mackenzie Munro
  • Cinematography by: Ray Dumas
  • Original Music by: Eric Cadesky, Nick Dyer

The Plot:

In a game of war, PK (Munroe) is the master, but when his best friend Kwon (Yu) is taken hostage, everyone realizes that this is a different game with different stakes. Kwon is taken by Skinner (Friend), who takes over his side by killing one of his teammates, which upsets Jess (Munro) because she was just there to impress him. As the game wages on, we see the boys act like boys as they try different maneuvers to win the other team’s flag and get Kwon back.

The Good:

  • These Kids: if this film triumphs it’s in that the child performers give mostly naturalistic performances. They behave like children, from asking one kid to eat dog poop, to how the rules of the game are honored. There’s not a single mannered or awkward performance in the group, though some performers are more interesting than others.
  • The Other Stuff: Though the film follows the day’s battle, what makes the film interesting is how it shows the personal relationships between the characters, and why they behave as they do. Munro’s Jess is the obvious standout, the girl who’s there because she has a crush on a boy and spends much of the game having imaginary conversations with him, while plotting how to win at the expense of both her side and the other’s without ever coming across as vindictive or mean-spirited. It’s a winning performance.
  • Tone: The movie never veers into self-parody, or genre parody. The kids play it straight, and though the violence is imaginary, we also get to see the blood of the results, and then the losers sent home. In this game, the rules are that if you’re shot you’re paralyzed for ten seconds, but if you’re hit with a grenade, you’re out of the game. Easy enough rules to follow, which makes things pretty straight-forward.
  • Torture: The film also gets points for showing how kids are mean. And it’s often because crap is rolling downhill. Without ever becoming belabored, those who hurt are usually hurt themselves, and want to strike back at whatever’s nearest, want to get dominance, want to inflict pain back on someone else for a change. But it also never belabors the motivations.

The Bad:

  • Is that All there is?: The structure of the movie is based around the one fight, and after a while, the premise starts to wear out its welcome. The kids are good, and it all works in context, but it’s a minor movie that may suggest major talents from the kids and perhaps from its staff. There’s good work here, but the movie feels very very small. Perhaps it’s that cutting to all the kids characters zaps the energy, or perhaps some groups are more interesting than others.

Overall:

A charming small movie, I Declare War has modest goals, but delivers on the premise. If anyone involved moves on to something bigger, this will be a great footnote to their career.

Rating: 7.5.10

I Declare War is on VOD now, and hits theaters August 30.

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Trailer: