If there is one person who should see VFW, it’s John Carpenter because this movie feels like a love letter to him and his previous work. VFW is a throwback to past grindhouse films that offered some of the best practical effects that you won’t find today. An absolute bloody treat from start to finish and it’s carried amazingly by a group of veteran actors, VFW is sure to go down as a cult classic if it finds the right following.
Director Joe Begos, who has been cranking out some decent indie films over the past few years returns with another home run. VFW takes place in a society suffering from the spread of a fictional drug called Hype. This drug has become an obsession for many, lead to the destruction of towns, and it will become a problem for a group of Vietnam veterans. After a teen steals a stash from local drug dealers and wanders into a VFW post, the vets are forced to defend their turf and the girl. Directed by Begos, and written by Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle VFW stars Stephen Lang, Fred Williamson, William Sadler, George Wendt, Martin Kove, Sierra McCormick, Tom Williamson, and Travis Hammer.
One error in this film is how all the characters are not that developed at all, you spend enough time with them, but you never learn much about these veterans other than they are all old pals and it’s someone’s birthday. However, for a film that keeps it so simple and straightforward, that is enough for the film to work, but not enough to find any investment in these characters. McArdle & Brallier’s screenplay could have been more complex and engaging, but what they put together is still worthy of praise. In this word, America has become a war zone of sorts thanks to the spread of hype, which turns its users violent and desperate for their next fix.
During a night at their local VFW, veterans Fred (Lang), Abe (Williamson), Thomas (Wendt), Lou (Kove), and Shawn (Williamson) are celebrating friendship and Fred’s birthday until Lizard (McCormick) stumbles into their bar with a bag of stolen drugs from Boz (Hammer) and his peers. A local drug dealer in the area, Boz wants his merchandise back, but things become more personal once his brother is killed. From there, McArdle & Brallier put viewers through a gory, action-packed thriller with over the top kills that feels like a loose remake of Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. VFW moves very fast and has some gritty dialogue for fans of grindhouse films to enjoy.
Our group of veteran actors gives stellar performances across the board, and Lang just has too much fun with his role. He has a well-established career, but more recently he is known for his portrayal of the blind man in 2016’s Don’t Breathe and in VFW he channels the violence of that character and much more. There is a point in the film where he comes face to face with Hammer’s character Boz and he threatens to cut his heart out in a way that will send chills down your spine. The way Lang delivers his lines and carries the character of Fred makes this a very good performance. Williamson, more specifically Fred Williamson stars alongside his son and the chemistry between them is unmatched.
Begos directs this film with ease, he will keep viewers on the edge of their seat all the way through till the final credits. He has been making quite an impact with indie films and he is a master at having a vision for a film and knowing what to do to make that vision come to life. The cinematography by Mike Testin and Steve Moore’s score is also well done, but Moore’s synth score, which is very much like Carpenter helps elevate the tension in this film. One thing that could have been handled a bit better is the lighting, there a few shots in VFW that are just too dark to make out what is happening, but the different shades of red and blue throughout were great to see.
VFW is a barn burner of a film that holds no punches and its one of the best films out right now. It is always great to see a film rely heavily on practical effects for its gore because it just proves that CGI doesn’t always need to be used. Also, it turns out that watching a group of war veterans battle drug dealers and their army of junkies is very entertaining. An obvious love letter to Carpenter, VFW is a relentless, blood-drenched action thriller that doesn’t let up.