When I was little, my grandpa’s VFW was the place we rented for absolutely everything. We rented it so often that the men who frequented it became family and before I know primo and hermano weren’t just terms for blood family, I thought that I had 20 uncles. These guys were rough, surly, and so tightly bonded that when my grandfather passed away they all showed up. Opening with heartwarming anecdote gets at the bonding that Joe Begos’ VFW shows but does not prepare you for the blood-soaked rid that his film is.
In VFW, the United States’ opioid crisis has hit critical mass and addicts are seeking out a new drug, Hype, however, they can. The users are known as Hypers but honestly, they’re pretty much a hybrid of a zombie and a mutant. With their bodies damaged by the drugs, with scars and slashes that could find a home in DCeased, Hypers are brutally violent with one need: more hype. While neighborhoods are beginning to crumble in the wake of Hype and law enforcement nowhere to be seen, one retreat is a local VFW. If you’re unfamiliar, VFW is an acronym for “Veterans of Foreign Wars.” These halls serve as spots for veterans to retreat, gran a drink and bond. What starts off as a typical night for a group of war veterans which they hope will turn into a celebration at a strip club quickly turns into an all-out battle for survival.
While the group of men has the goal of celebrating a birthday and welcome home to a newly returned young vet, all plans are trashed when a teenage girl names Lizard (Sierra McCormick) runs into the VFW with a bag of stolen Hype. With a price on her head, waves of mutated addicts and the drug dealers themselves descend on the VFW hall to get back what’s theirs – at any cost. But, these grumpy old men are more than meets the eye, using every weapon they can put together to protect the girl, and their VFW, as the vets facilitate a battle fit for any video game setting.
The men of the VFW are just like the men I saw growing up. They’re foul-mouthed, hilarious, and have clearly made a bond that’s way deeper than just sharing a beer. The chemistry between them is extremely good. It feels real, it’s hilarious, and each of these grumpy old men put up a stellar performance that turns them into solid action and slasher heroes. With a script from Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle , it’s apparent that they know exactly how to make these geriatric badasses both relatable and humorous while imbuing them with enough brutality to rip and hack through waves of mutated Hypers.
But of them all, Stephen Lang and William Sadler as Fred and Walter respectfully stand-out from the ensemble and demand to be seen. From their action hero moments to their relationship with each other, I can’t speak highly of them enough. For Lang, he’s very much the hardened old man we saw in Don’t Breathe, but his violence is undercut with empathy and the need to fight for his friends. This grounds him and allows us to see a side we didn’t in the film most newer horror fans will know him from. For Sadler, he plays a character that oscillates between puffing up his chest and heroic moments.
My only issue is with the opening title card which breaks down what Hype is an sets the scene for a world in shambles. While the opening scene gives us a Judge Dred level of near-future dystopian vibe, it ultimately is all contained to just that, the opening. when we see the VFW, it’s almost pristine, in its own rundown way. That said as the drug lord and his mutants begin to storm it the aesthetic seems to
In traditional Begos fashion, lighting tells the story as much as the dialogue or the characters’ actions. Reds, blues, and yellows turn each scene into a neon nightmare making the gore and practical effects stand out in a league of their own. If there is something outside of acting that hits a high note, it’s the film’s creativity when it comes to executions, kills, and the final farewells from the characters. Some kills come out of nowhere like an ax through the shoulder and others are set up and executed in a fashion that builds gorgeously violent picture – one even involves a flag pole.
VFW is a gorefest and a great one at that. With characters you root for and a world you never want to enter, Begos has knocked this film out of the park. The premise is simple, the setting is chaotic, the set is bloody, and overall it’s a fast and fun ride.
VFW comes to VoD February 14, 2020.
VFW is a gorefest and a great one at that. With characters you root for and a world you never want to enter, Begos has knocked this film out of the park.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.