Have you ever wondered what John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 would look like if it were fused with the ultra-violent stylings of a modern survival flick like Green Room? If the answer is yes then Joe Begos’ newest flick VFW may be the movie you have been waiting for.
VFW centres on a group of extremely likable war veterans, played by B-movie legends Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Fred Williamson, Martin Kove and David Patrick Kelly. While holed up in their local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) post, they become embroiled in a vicious fight for survival against a relentless horde of punk junkies.
Why? Well, a young girl has stolen a large amount of ‘Hype’, a drug that seems similar to cocaine in use. Unfortunately for these old timers, this young girl has taken refuge inside VFW Post 2494 with devastating consequences.
VFW is extremely easy viewing. There are no plot twists, it is set almost entirely in one location and the budget is surprisingly low for such a vibrant visual experience. Instead, the movie is a grindhouse throwback, one that wears its influences confidently. Frankly, it’s a goddamn joy to behold.
That said, when your movie opens with a drug addicted woman throwing herself off a bridge only for her skull to shatter and a palette of red to engulf where her face should be, you know exactly what’s coming. Like recent, similarly styled grindhouse-esque affairs such as Green Room and You’re Next, VFW is extremely violent and it certainly will not be for everyone.
For those who don’t mind such gore though, VFW is excellent genre filmmaking. Following Begos’ previous film, the absolutely fascinating Bliss, the director has once again ensured his work is beautiful to behold. Vibrant colours permeate every scene and are backed by a pulsating, powerful 80’s tinged synth soundtrack – both propelling all manner of B-movie madness. Yet where VFW really shines is with its stellar cast and their compelling performances.
It has been quite a while since anyone assembled such a respected cast for a movie like this. Stephen Lang’s Fred Parras is the leader of the group. Just like in the recent home invasion chiller Don’t Breathe, the actor carries the film with incredible ease. Fred’s morals are extremely pure. He never once falters to fear or the promise of money when ‘hype’ enters his VFW bar. The prospect of getting out alive with tons of cash by giving up the girl consumes many of the group yet not Fred. He’s exactly what you want from a hero in this vicious situation and you can’t help but root for him throughout.
The rest of the elderly cast are equally strong. B-movie legend Fred Williamson revels in VFW’s ultra-violence and gives yet another solid performance that brings to mind his role in Robert Rodriguez’s grindhouse classic From Dusk till Dawn. Meanwhile, William Sadler (Die Hard 2, Demon Knight) provides much of the comedy while never once feeling unnecessary or secondary to the events unfolding around him.
Rounding out the lead characters are veterans Martin Kove (The Karate Kid), David Patrick Kelly (Twin Peaks) and George Wendt (Fletch), all providing smaller but just as solid performances that manage to cement the strength of the chemistry between this group of retired soldiers. The constant back and forth banter between them throughout VFW is a sheer pleasure to watch unfold, aided too by Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle’s witty writing.
The movie relishes in the deconstruction of modern tropes and cliches through good ol’ fashioned nostalgia and one-liners. It’s clear to see Brallier and McArdle set out to take the foundations of 70’s and 80’s genre filmmaking and apply it to a modern grindhouse tale.
Throughout VFW, the attacks from the villainous punk junkies on Fred and his friends become more over-the-top in nature. Suitable synth-soaked montages detail the veterans arming themselves with anything and everything they can. 2×4’s, electric grinders and hulking trucks, for example, are used to great effect.
However, the finale is where the film really shines. Without spoiling, in one final stand against these punk oppressors, Fred and the gang revel in Begos’ impressively telegraphed blood-soaked conclusion. The finale of VFW is vicious, ridiculous, thrilling, as well as devastating given its powerful outcome. Begos clearly wants his movie to feel like it deserves cult status among the likes of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. I personally can confidently say it succeeds.
With Joe Begos’ super low budget debut Almost Human in 2013, the filmmaker set out to pay homage to the classic sci-fi and horror movies he watched religiously as a kid. He simply wanted to have fun making films and it showed. Now things have come full circle. With VFW (as well as Bliss, now streaming on Shudder), Begos has transitioned from homage to developing his own identity, one fueled by a passion for creating deliciously violent B-movies like the heroes of cinema before him. If you can buy into his latest’s extreme violence and bleak outlook, it might be your new favourite movie.