Fantastic Fest Review: Joe Begos’ VFW is a Bloody Good Time for Genre Film Fanatics
Editor’s note: VFW is one of The After Movie Diner team’s most anticipated fall release. The cast is a who’s who of people we’d happily put in every movie and the plot is an old school, tried and tested, action/horror formula that never gets tired. One of our gang, Lisa Gullickson, got to see the movie at its premiere at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Tx. Her wonderful review is below but this isn’t the last you’ve heard of VFW on this site!
VFW, from director Joe Begos, takes place in an even more dystopian present than we appear to already be living in. One where the punks are crazed over the latest opioid, Hypophedrine or “hype” if you’re a punk. The few, remaining good men need a safe place to stick together. The VFW Post #2494 is a haven for Fred (Stephen Lang) and his fellow veterans of foreign wars who have seen some shit and lived to tell about it - they’ve got some tall tales, long tabs and each are growing by the second. Behind the bar, Fred doesn’t mind the ever-lengthening debts, because what’s a few bucks between war buddies? He’ll pay the old building’s electric bill eventually. Besides, who wants to shake down their friends on their birthday? All celebratory plans were put on hold, however, when a bunch of seething hypers descend on the VFW looking for blood.
If you’re watching VFW, it’s for the cadre of character actors drafted for this picture and it delivers in spades. Each character has their “thing” - Doug (David Patrick Kelly) is the sweet stoner, Lou (Martin Kove) is the slick salesman, Walter (William Sadler) is the raucous raconteur and Abe (Fred Williamson) eats pussy. They even include a young gun in their ranks, Shaun (Tom Williamson) who is fresh out of the Middle East, in his fatigues and everything. Fred (Steven Lang) is the emotional hub of the piece with a more introspective demeanor but a strong sense of honor and loyalty. The establishing scenes of the men belly up to the bar feels like a stage play, with the characters trading monologues and snappy dialogue, playing to each other as much as the audience. Once the shit hits the fan though, it’s much less 12 Angry Men and way more Class of 1984.
As much as we love these guys drinking brown and reminiscing about the war days, what we really want to see is them kicking the studded leather asses of some no-good punks. Begos does not shy away from the blood and gore. Within seconds of the junkies breaching their sanctuary, Fred explodes a scumbag point blank with a double barrel shotgun - sloppy punk salami all over the joint! The hype-heads have the numbers, but it takes these fogeys no time to blow the dust off their military training. The pace is frantic, but don’t fret, there is still just enough time for a montage of them getting crafty and honing weapons out of table legs, nails, tennis balls and the like. The violence is gory and slapdash with extra spurty blood to cover the seams - but I like my exploitation like Abe likes his women, rough and ready. Not everything that was set up was knocked down necessarily, but it was all tremendous fun.
If you’re looking for a strong message film about the plight of veterans and an allegory about our current opioid crisis, VFW is not for you. This movie doesn’t go much deeper than ‘drugs bad, veterans good,’ - which is the kind of morality a bunch of old white dudes and two guys named Williamson can get behind. VFW is the opportunity to get to see William Sadler and a handful of beloved character actors at summer camp for geezers where the number one recreation is giving a bunch of nasty punks what-for.
It’s shallow. It’s crass. It’s bloody. I mean, what’s not to love?