With the opioid crisis out of control, people have turned to an even more dangerous drug, and now the streets are a warzone. That’s the premise behind Joe Begos’ new ultra-gritty action-thriller, VFW.
Movies like VFW are what I call Saturday night flicks. They feature outlandish premises that get your adrenaline pumping, and they feel custom-made for midnight screenings with raucous crowds. They’re the perfect form of entertainment for a fun Saturday night. VFW fits this definition to a T.
Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle’s script couldn’t be any more straight-forward. A bunch of grizzled old military vets hang out in a bar called VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), run by Fred (Stephen Lang). A young woman named Lizard (Sierra McCormick) steals a bunch of drugs from a gang leader (Travis Hammer) who is camped out across the street, and she flees into VFW.
The gang leader sends his gang of marauders into the bar to retrieve the drugs and kill everyone standing in their way. The vets fight off wave after wave of bad guys as they figure out how to escape with their lives.
VFW is a love letter to ‘80s trash cinema. It’s the sort of film that wouldn’t feel out of place in a video store’s dusty old 99 cent bin. Don’t get me wrong, I mean this as a compliment.
The premise is pretty video game-y. The vets fortify the bar while waves of disposable henchmen fight their way inside – these drugged-out goons feel more like a zombie horde than a gang of punks. Since nobody began the day anticipating a siege, the heroes in the bar must defend themselves with an array of DIY weapons. They plant booby traps and forges makeshift clubs out of chair legs and rusty nails, which all sets the stage for another ‘80s staple: the gearing up montage
VFW worships at the altar of many gods. It’s a classic siege flick reminiscent of Assault on Precinct 13, Night of the Living Dead, and From Dusk till Dawn. Steve Moore’s ominous and brooding synth score sounds lifted from a John Carpenter movie. While Mike Testin’s moody cinematography captures most of the picture in haunting blues and blood-red tones. And the brutally lo-fi gore effects look like the work of the viceroy of violence himself, Tom Savini. All these influences come together to form an enjoyably pulpy pastiche.
I can’t stress how violent this movie is. Someone takes a machete to the face in the opening moments, and the gore-factor only gets more audacious from there. Part of the movie’s appeal is seeing how depraved Begos is willing to get. Bodies explode as though they’re packed with rocket fuel, and human heads get pummeled until they look extra chunky Ragu sauce.
There is one area where this movie works better than many of its predecessors. Begos isn’t afraid to give his movie room to breathe. The film slows down and lets the audience have some time to connect with its characters.
VFW doesn’t feature the richest gang of heroes, but it provides just enough time with these knuckleheads for them to grow on you. It helps when you have veteran actors like William Sadler, David Patrick Kelly, and Fred Williamson in supporting roles. By the time the action kicks into gear, we don’t want to see this crew served up as fodder.
Begos pays homage to a bygone era when bad-ass cover art was all it took to make people rent some low-budget exploitation flick. VFW recreates the genre’s blood-thirsty highs and playfully embraces its campy lows to deliver a fun-loving throwback that revels in depravity.