Starring Gage Munroe, Siam Yu. Written by Jason Lapeyre. Directed by Jason Lapeyre, Robert Wilson. 14A. 93 min. Opens May 10
at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The very idea of a Rambo-style action movie with 13-year-old combatants is enough to give the average PTA group a collective conniption fit. Perhaps those skittish parents are better off without ever seeing I Declare War’s adolescent cast members in their full soldier-of-fortune regalia, toting automatic rifles, and unleashing obscene amounts of imaginary (but still plenty real-looking) firepower in each other’s directions. Of course, when these kids get shot, they merely have to count off some steamboats before getting up again. (Those who’ve been hit with grenades are declared dead and sent home.)
Obviously, it’s no small feat for the audacity of I Declare War’s premise—presenting an afterschool game of war in a way that looks and feels as real to viewers as it does to the youngsters in the thick of it—to be matched by the cunning of its execution. The winner of an audience award at the Fantastic Fest in Austin last year, this homegrown effort by Toronto-based directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson also benefits from a bounty of young actors who attack their roles (and the opposing squadron) with an energy that proves to be infectious. Gage Munroe is particularly effective as P.K., the pint-sized Patton in charge of the slightly more honourable of the two teams. As the kids’ hostilities intensify during the course of the afternoon, their tactics approach adult levels of ruthlessness. These warriors must contend with everything from some dubious prisoner interrogation techniques to the borderline-sociopathic behaviour of a lone assassin to the subtler machinations of Jess (Mackenzie Munro), the lone girl on the battlefield.
It’s almost a bonus that I Declare War works so well as an action flick, given how sharp and savage it is as an allegory about less obviously explosive varieties of teenage combat.