02/20/2020 06:59

Film: VFW

Year: 2019

Director: Joe Begos

Writer: Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle

Starring: Stephen Lang, Martin Kove and William Sadler



This was a film that came on to my radar when I heard the director, Joe Begos, get interviewed on Shockwaves podcast about his movie. He talked about the premise and I was definitely intrigued to check this out. I lucked out when it was showing at the Nightmares Film Festival for its Ohio premiere. I then got the chance again to see I at the Gateway Film Center when it got a wider release. The synopsis is a group of war veterans must defend their local VFW post and an innocent teen against a deranged drug dealer and his relentless army of punk mutants.

We’re filled in on the back-story of this film with some text. It takes place today, but in an alternative timeline. There’s a drug called Hype that is taking over the streets. It seems to give energy like meth would, but it erodes the mind into mush. There’s a local dealer named Boz (Travis Hammer) who is held up in an old movie theater with his second in command, Gutter (Dora Madison) as well as Roadie (Graham Skipper) and Tank (Josh Ethier). We see an interaction with a drugged out Lucy (Linnea Wilson) who kills herself to get her fix.

Across the parking lot is a local VFW post. It is run by Fred Parras (Stephen Lang). He has an old pick-up truck that’s reliable and he collects Abe Hawkins (Fred Williamson) from his place. They arrive to open up and we see that in the back is Walter Reed (William Sadler).

It turns out to be the birthday of Fred and his friends are there to celebrate. Among them is Lou Clayton (Martin Kove) who is a used car salesman, Doug McCarthy (David Patrick Kelly) and Thomas Zabriski (George Wendt). Just returning from overseas is Shawn Mason (Tom Williamson) who despite being much younger, is taken in by this group of old veterans. It’s a bit heartwarming as we have different eras, but the same feeling of what they dealt with overseas.

The night takes a turn when Lizard (Sierra McCormick), the younger sister of Lucy, steals the stash of Hype from Boz. She is seen in the process and takes refuge in the VFW. The veterans inside feel a duty to protect her and it becomes a nightmare as they’re attacked by these drugged out people at the request of Boz and the thought of their next fix.

Just to set the stage for this movie, I really liked Begos’ previous film Bliss a lot. So when heard his interview and the premise, I made sure not to miss this one. What’s interesting is that he is definitely a fan of horror and cinema in general from what I can tell. This film is more grounded than his previous and this is a love letter to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. To set this one apart, they really do go more brutal here.

What is an interesting dynamic is using veterans instead of police officers. These guys really don’t have any right to do what they do, aside from their being attacked so it’s self-defense. I find it intriguing that most of the men are either Vietnam or Korean vets, so they’re much older than the people they’re fighting against. There’s definitely a subtle nod to the thought that the older generation was made tougher for sure. The drugged out people they’re going against though are relentless. I also like that if you have a group of veterans like Shawn, it wouldn’t be as impactful as they’d be at the top of their game. This makes it a bit fairer in my eyes by having these older men fighting them off.

As I’ve said, this one is more brutal than Assault on Precinct 13. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen that original film, but I know it came out in 1976. This was right in the middle of exploitation era and felt more like an action film. This movie really does amp up the violence and gore which I think is an interesting idea. What is intriguing as well since there were some brutal things done in Vietnam and Korea, so with these guys being veterans from there, that part is buried inside of them.

To shift to this to the pacing, we are clocking in at about 92 minutes and I think it was perfect length. We get all of the characters introduced and the main issue of what happens right afterward. These attacks come in waves, where the villains don’t realize how strong these vets are and they constantly have to rethink their plan of attack. There’s some heart to this and it really makes Lizard as well as the veterans consider a different look at their situations. It is interesting that Lou thinks he can talk is way out of it, so we get some butting of heads, but rank does come through. I thought the ending was solid for what the film was building to as well.

One thing that I did feel a bit off is that the synopsis refers to them as mutants. I think this is a bit misleading as they’re just drugged out people. The more I was thinking about the other part of the set up, it is really to just establish that there won’t be any cops coming. This part of town has fallen apart and the drug use contributed there. We aren’t in a post-apocalyptic world yet, but the opening shots make it look like Flint, Michigan. Places like this do exist which makes it sad.

Taking this to the acting, we have a pretty much all-star cast here. I’ve only seen Lang in a few things, but he definitely kills this role. He has such a screen presence that I feel he was really a military man and that when he talks, you listen. Kove is great as the snake here, but we do see that he has a good side to him as well. I like that his nature and sense of duty are at conflict. Sadler and Kelly are both great as well as both Williamsons. McCormick is cute and I like the growth of her character to see the problems in her current existence. There’s something about Madison that I just love. She doesn’t have a major part like she did in Bliss, but you can feel her presence regardless. I really have a big crush on her from the past roles I’ve seen her in. Shout outs as well to Wendt, Skipper and Ethier for their parts as I feel them and the rest of the cast rounded out this for what was needed.

The effects in this are really good as well. As I’ve already said, this is pretty brutal. From what I could tell almost all of the effects here are practical and they definitely made me cringe at times. It is a bit over the top though while still looking real, but it also helped me to cheer on these guys who are fighting for what is right. I also thought the cinematography was well done. There’s definitely a vibe of the 70’s with some of lighting as well as a gritty feel to it. It feels like a modern grindhouse film.

Last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. I like that it definitely took on a synth-feel and feels like it is paying homage to Carpenter. I noticed it a few times where some of the selections could fit in the film that this mimicking. It also helped to build tension as there’s real fear that these guys aren’t going to survive the night. That definitely worked for me.

Now with that said, I’m glad I got the chance to catch this one on the big screen a couple of times. After that second viewing, I like it even more.  It’s a film that does something that isn’t completely original, but it is brutal and I caught myself getting excited watching the things that are happening. There are some interesting underlying issues with different eras of people and doing the right thing. I think it is paced in a way where it moves through things and never gets boring. I dug the ending and I thought the acting was really good across the board. The effects are also solid and I love the soundtrack paying homage to Carpenter. I feel this is a good movie and definitely one to watch with friends as this is a really fun one.


My Rating: 8.5 out of 10