It’s make-believe war for a bunch of children in the most incredible pretend battle of their young lives. General P.K. (Gage Munroe) has never lost a game of capture the flag, and he’s not about to start now. With his fellow soldiers hiding out in the woods, P.K. schemes on how to defeat General Quinn (Aidan Gouveia), the toughest military mind he’s faced to date. The rules of engagement shift unexpectedly, however, when Quinn’s soldier Skinner (Michael Friend), against Quinn’s orders, kidnaps Paul (Siam Yu), P.K.’s best friend. Feeling that the days of losing must end, Skinner leads a coup against Quinn, setting his own devious plans in motion to defeat P.K. and company.
While the actual weapons are often sticks or water balloons, I Declare War gives us the view from the children’s imaginations, and thus items become their more deadly counterparts. Water balloons become grenades, sticks become machine guns and a slingshot turns into a crossbow. This visual cue, mixed with an editorial pace and compositional aesthetic that mimics war film cinematography, delivers the most epic capture the flag battle ever.
Sure, they’re kids and this isn’t “real,” but the film does an exceptional job of capturing that time in our lives when our imaginations make things real for us. Death here means that you just have to go home, but for kids, being sent home and unable to play anymore can be pretty damn awful. On top of that, the emotional dynamics of growing up adds dimensions and layers to actions that these kids probably don’t even recognize yet. For some, like Skinner, this isn’t a game anymore; this is anger and rejection coming to a head.
Which is to say, for as lighthearted and fun as this film is, there’s much more going on under the surface here. It’s both a nostalgic ode to the creativity of youth and a tragedy of growing up, wrapped in the graying dynamics of war as playtime. What was once a game, after P.K.’s dominance is established, becomes about figuring out ways to circumvent the rules. Competition becomes paramount, and for some the definition of “win” is very different than what it may’ve been when they all started out.
I Declare War is a fascinating film. That it can stand up there with other films about battle strategy and war is interesting in itself, but it becomes that much more powerful when coupled with the youthful trappings. A unique mix of battle genre and sentiment, and thankfully one that attempts to capture a possible turning point in the game without getting too melodramatic about it. For some the stakes are different now, and from an audience viewpoint, the game may never be the same but, at the same time, these are kids. The next match will be just as epic in a completely different way, and it’s possible the events of this particular adventure may fall by the wayside.