This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
In "I Declare War," 13-year-olds engage in a daily game of Capture the Flag. With sticks, logs, fake guns, and balloons filled with red paint, each team strategizes and hunts down their enemies. Their playground is a seemingly endless stretch of woods, and PK (Gage Munroe), the leader of one team, has never lost a game. PK's current opponent, Quinn (Aidan Gouveia) appears to be his most formidable foe, which worries PK to no end. Quinn's team includes the only female player, Jess (Mackenzie Munro), and Skinner (Michael Friend), the biggest player. The game takes up the entire running time, filling it with double crosses, heroic saves and feats of strategy more suited to 30-year-olds than teenagers.
My plot synopsis makes "I Declare War" sound like a young adult movie where, for a change, the characters are playing wargames outside rather than on the Xbox. This could have made for a diverting feature, especially with the strategic aspects of Capture the Flag. Unfortunately, filmmakers Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson wish to impress far more meaning onto the teenagers' games. "I Declare War" plays like a C-student's final exam essay on "Lord of the Flies." Any interest in the game is overridden by the massive amounts of allegory lifted straight from Golding's novel. As a scenario, unsupervised teenagers running around in the woods syncs up with "Lord of the Flies," especially when their numbers include the weak, the strong, the empathetic and the sadistic.
In place of Golding's murderous sadism is a device so absurdly misused it destroyed all suspension of disbelief. Every so often, the characters' fake artillery becomes "real." The paint-filled balloons, which signify immediate "death" if a player gets splattered with them, turn into actual grenades. The obviously fake guns the kids fire at one another become actual weapons with muzzle flashes and gunshots on the soundtrack. Logs become bazookas and Jess turns into Katniss from "The Hunger Games," wielding a crossbow and shooting an arrow into a kid who makes other kids' heads explode telepathically, like that tire in "Rubber."
I am well aware that these transformations are taking place in the minds of the players, and are not meant to be real events. The bullets never make bloody wounds, even at close range. Fantasy or not, the film is still showing kids under fire and, in the current climate of school shootings, gang initiations and teen suicides, this strikes me as kind of sick. I'd be less bothered if this had a point instead of feeling like a cynical ploy to get paying customers: A glock in a kid's hand is worth at least a few butts in theater seats. Tossing children into war-like scenarios with machine guns and explosions plays like a cross between "Platoon" and that Alan Parker kiddie gangster musical from 1976—it's Oliver Stone's "Bugsy Malone"! Except Oliver wouldn't have the Stones to take this scenario to a dark place that justifies its visuals.