I DECLARE WAR: An In-Depth EF Review
I Declare War: My thoughts on the film as it performed as a piece of cinema, how it might fare in this political climate, and (effectively) as an Independent film entry. Read on after the jump to see my verdict on this Indie film project that took festivals by storm in 2012.
I Declare War
Released: August 30th, 2013
Opened: #75 14 Theaters
Current Box Office Numbers:Art House Theater (Does Not Apply Overall)
Metacritic: 60 of 100 & 6.8 User Rating
Rotten Tomatoes Aggregated So Far: 67% Critics & 62% Audience Approval
I heard about this film when I was on the festival circuit last year; every attempt at catching a screening of the film I was giving a panel, or seminar, on production. Never getting a chance to watch it, I eventually completely forget about this film. It’s finally in release, and hit VOD (Video On Demand) including 14 Art House theaters August 30th. Finally releasing into mainstream media (if you can call it that); I was completely excited to sit down and watch this film. I’d heard so many amazing things about it, but had no general details other then it’s general premise. Knowing it played at a lot of festivals throughout 2012, and won a few awards; I had high hopes for this independent film. Which gave me a high expectation of the project.
Additional Note: I always hope Independent films are successful, because I work in Independent film, so I have a softer spot for these entries.
A completely original premise and concept, unlike anything I’ve seen in a very long time. In a cinematic world of exceedingly unoriginal concepts, this one was breathtakingly original, if not completely politically incorrect.
The general idea is based on an old children’s game, called "War", where the rules are basic and are all driven by imagination. Two Generals declare bases, and these bases don’t move. The first general to get the other bases flag, wins. Using your imagination and weapons made of sticks (or whatever you can piece and tie together), you shoot at the enemy; they count to 10 (Mississippi, or Steamboats - like in the film) when hit, and are stunned for that period of time. Another player needs to deliver a killing blow with a water balloon (grenade) to actually kill this player. Once dead, that player goes home. Pretty simple, and as old school as it can get when it comes to pre-video game, iPhone, internet era playtime.
The bulk of the kids are relatively new to acting and have some momentary “Shatner” style execution of their lines, but overall are enjoyable to watch. This is a nitpick.
There is not much to state in negative for this film, outside of possible politically perceived notions from its premise and release. The main gripes are nitpicks in regards to young actors that are still learning their craft. I can be completely brutal and point out two actors who were quite atrocious, however, they don’t have a lot of scenes to butcher. But overall, the cast works out really well, and you can forgive the generally lackadaisical performance of these actors as intentionally played to be weak people.
The worst issues in reality are the political ramifications of this film, which explore a very dark aspect of adolescent behavior, that is in constant scrutiny at the moment. Scrutiny, that in my opinion is completely misguided and pointed in the wrong direction; scapegoating the wrong things to relieve (assuage) much needed parental guilt and responsibility.
The only other aspect that can be considered a general nitpick, but in my opinion is an opportunity lost. The one girl in the film has brief (nearly spastic) fantastical breaks (in her mind) attempting to be played off as a nearly schizophrenic female. While young girls who are hormonally charged are certainly not the most rational (Boys are just as dumbfounded), to a degree the one female character that was appearing to be a strong contender in the film, was turned into a whimpering and eventually weak character.
The imaginary weapons are almost always displayed as real weapons throughout the entire film. Initially the shock of watching children shooting each other with automatic weapons may throttle you, but then you realize its make-believe and your inner-child should take over and give you a few chuckles.
What is also fascinating about this film, is the notion that the bulk of what you are seeing is based on imaginary weapons, in an imaginary themed war game, that is prefaced to be played often. There are scenes that are extremely dark in terms of the situation in their “fake” war that forces you to ask yourself "is this really happening?"; Or your perception and morality end up affecting your ability to see this as imaginary. Being contradicted by the fact that these kids are simply playing a game, or are they?
It’s a duality that the film throws at you, and woven so beautifully; you have no idea what to think. You only gain a few glimpses that express the truth of the situation, and based on those glimpses your jaw will either drop, or you will cringe. Your mind will either struggle to believe "This can't be happening", or argue "It's all make believe", their perception is altering their reality, as these kids all remain in their imagination never breaking character.
Gage Munroe was amazing as PK, this kid has an amazing career in Hollywood with performances like this; I saw a little George Peppard in him. He was beyond believable, and completely pure in his role. Michael Friend, as Skinner, was equally as terrifying, and committed to his character. Again adding to the escape in the film.
The audience is trapped dealing with its own moralities; trying to understand if it is perceiving something imaginary, played out for us to see, or if certain situations are occurring to the players. Blurring lines of reality and play. I almost want to say "...Masterpiece!", but that would be exaggerated, however, for the purposes of what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish, it wouldn't be far from appropriate. Even if some critics didn't like this film. Something I akin to their personal moral views, and the political climate in the US with kids (this age) attacking fellow students and teachers in schools.
The overall story, the commitment, the characters made for this game. The Lord of the Flies aspect Skinner took with his need to win and control his situation. The general way that these kids took this game to the next level, let this film crisply speak to all of us on a deeper level.
The direct attention to detail that displays how most children (when left to their own devices) are complete and utter depraved human beings, assholes in short, was refreshing. We usually see absolute lies and flowery bullshit, in terms of portrayals of children on the screen. This film gives you a real look at what kids can be like in the real world. The truth is easily recognized; all we need to do is look inward and remember how we ourselves were, or were treated, among our peers when we were of a similar age. This film kept things honest, raw, and injected with simple truths.
I Declare War explores a variety of topics in our nature. The need to win, the need to be validated. The need to be heard. Exploration of feelings under-noted by hormonal changes. All while playing a simple game. This film played more important a role in our culture than anything Twilight could have ever hoped to deliver (bullshit, vampires don't F'ing Sparkle!). It is almost on the same level as Stand by Me, and The Goonies, but having nothing at all to do with either.
What Might have Hurt This Film…
The violent content in reference to a variety of scenes gets a bit intense and is possibly too dark in some cases. In the wake of real world events that took place after this film was created, the politically incorrect aspect of this film becomes a hot topic. Depending on the observer, those aspects can be taken extremely seriously, and extremely in the negative.
Because it is an independent film, it did not gain a much larger mainstream release or appeal, and chances are because of the issues in the US with children hurting other children, this film may be considered ahead of its time, or simply created and released at the wrong time.
The entire film has no adults whatsoever on screen, and it begins amid PK's war game, ending with the completion of the game. The lack of any adults in this film will easily cause problematic perceptions for the reasons listed above. Critics are mixed on this film, as are some of the audiences that have watched it.
Because VOD tends to measure financial success and viewership differently then theatrically released projects, it's harder to gauge directly if the film was or is successful. However its Art House showings were sold out.
I absolutely love this film. It’s not at all a popcorn flick, but some folks will presume it to be. This is a movie that at times will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, in sheer disbelief of what may or may not be occurring; to flip the situation on you in the same moment and possibly have you laughing (if not angry). I hope anyone reading this, that is over 30 (like me), or close to 40 (also like me) had playtime like this when they were young, to remember this game.
In our world of constant and persistent variations of media barraging us and our children, this type of real world imagination barely exists anymore. I loved the various confrontations it presented us with in our minds, especially to those of us that are parents; because many of us have our biased views of our children. From aspects we would abhor and be deeply concerned with for them, to the basic aspect of human nature being displayed. This film can be seen as a heavy handed attempt at a philosophical message, or simply just a character piece glimpsing into the world of pre-adolescent kids, in the full glory of their behavior absent adults.
5 out of 5 Movie Geeks will love it! (If politics are left out of the film experience)
Have you seen I Declare War yet? Are you planning to? Did this review help you? Do you agree, disagree? I want to hear from you! Comment, share, tweet, pin, whatever tickles your fancy. @EmanuelFCamacho
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