FIlm Review: I Declare War

They might often seem like the most grotesque affront to intellectual enlightenment since Adolph Hitler and his hate-spewing homeboys first laid their mitts on a packet of firelighters and a pile of paperbacks, but the truth is music videos are not really any worse now than they ever were.

Yes, admittedly, sawing open your own cranium and tipping in a bucket of sewage would only yield an effect mildly more stupefying than a Saturday morning spent in the company of say, 4Music and one of its crapulent weekend countdowns (‘Top 40 Artists with IQs Under 40’, ‘Top 40 Songs to Make You Hammer Tent Pegs into Your Ears’).

On the other hand, the kind of freewheeling creativity the likes of future-big screen big leaguers Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry used to pepper their music videos with can still be seen and savoured. One sterling example of just such is the clip for Is Tropical’s The Greeks, directed by French foursome Megaforce.

In the space of three-and-a-bit minutes, the video brilliantly brings to blackly comic life the intensity, imagination and sheer bloodthirstiness that kids impose on any act of play which revolves around pointing plastic guns at each other and making ‘ratatatat’ noises. With cartoon rockets exploding everywhere and the young combatants collapsing in pools of animated gore, it’s a bit like Battle Royale meets Roger Rabbit.

This is worth mentioning because A) the video is every bit as ace as that logline makes it sound, and B) I Declare War is basically The Greeks video extended to 90 minutes. Yes, the toon-time animation is absent. But it employs the same conceit of presenting its youthful protagonists’ weapons to be as real as they imagine. Sticks become machine guns. A log is a bazooka.

Hailing from Canada, I Declare War is co-directed by Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson, from a script by Lapeyre alone. The action all occurs on a single afternoon, during a single game of Capture the Flag, with a cast all aged under 16.

Any such sans-adults scenario inevitably evokes Lord of the Flies, but Lapeyre and Wilson’s movie is a heck of a lot sunnier than Golding’s classic (probably not that hard…). Which is not to suggest an absence of drama though; the game and by extension the film’s narrative are dominated by the vendetta between shouty Skinner (Michael Friend) and rival team leader and Patton-in-the-making PK (Gage Monroe).

Indeed, on occasions you find yourself getting as swept up in the reality of the imagined warfare as the youngsters – for example, the ratcheting air of menace as pint-size Backstreet Boy Quinn (Aidan Gouveia) finds himself facing a ruthless coup.

The portrayal of the kids is undoubtedly I Declare War’s biggest boon, with each being permitted their own personality and arc: from wily wild card/sole girl Jess (Mackenzie Monroe) to dim-witted comic relief Frost (Alex Cardillo), to the maladroit bromance that develops between wussy altar boy Wesley (Andy Reid) and the auburn-afro’d Joker (Spencer Howes).

The young cast play their roles with gusto, and do a great deal to eke every last ounce of entertainment from the one-location set-up. However, while that set-up is undoubtedly intriguing, once the rules have been established, you immediately find yourself asking whether Lapeyre and Wilson can sustain it over the full runtime.

To their credit, they and their actors do – but only just.

I Declare War is released in the UK on 4th April