Starring: Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Fred Williamson, Martin Kove, David Patrick Kelly, George Wendt, Tom Williamson, Sierra McCormick, Travis Hammer, Dora Madison
Written by: Max Brallier, Matthew McArdle
Directed by: Joe Begos
There are very few movies where I can “turn my mind off and enjoy the fucking madness.” In the times we’re in, you need to turn off your brain and have a good time without thinking too hard about it. VFW satisfies every bit of that phrase and more. It’s not only fun but fucking insane and one hell of a good time. It leaves you with your eyes glued to the action, your blood pumping, sweat dripping, and your pulse screaming. Right as the credits roll, you’ll feel like you’re on a drug, and you have to have more.
In the mists of drugs starting to flood the streets, a new drug called ‘HYPE’ is on the market. It’s willing to seek and destroy anyone who dares to take it. Hauled up in an old theater, the mutant punks gather to taste the drug even if it’s their last time. Lizard (Sierra McCormick), who has recently lost her sister because of HYPE, steals the rest of the Boz’s (Travis Hammer) stash for revenge. Lizard runs to the only place that’s in view, the local VFW run by Fred Parras (Stephen Lang). As the hoard of mutant punks grows near, they’ll teach them to stay out of their space … for good.
Before we go any further in this review, let me tell you quickly how cool a VFW is. When I was little, I used to hang out in VFW’s a lot. I went to a lot of shitty punk shows and hung with my dad and his buds. The VFW connects the Veterans of Foreign Wars to each other. If you’ve ever been to a one, it’s a support system where men who have served can assist each other or just congregate and hangout. You hear a lot of stories about wars and the people they know or knew. Even when the place is rented out for shows, birthdays, or events, it always gives back to vets in someway. That still sticks with me, and that stuck with me a lot while watching this film.
So, first off, if you’re going to watch this movie, make sure you have a substance nearby or handy. I’m saying this because I did. Also, I had the absolute pleasure of viewing this film at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, and Joe Begos even recommended it. VFW is a neon-drenched, trippy thrill ride that you will not get out of your head for days. It’s part zombie movie, part-Street Trash, minorly-apocalyptic, full-blown ’80s action horror, but a whole lot of fucking fun. From beginning to end, you can’t help but be mesmerized and fall in love with everything in the movie, especially the men of the VFW (who, we will get more in-depth with in a few).
VFW feels like it’s shot through a gutter lens. What I mean by that is, it feels like it’s shot guerrilla-style in some parts, which makes it more action-packed and makes the kills so personal and brutal. The man to thank for that is none other than Joe Begos. If you didn’t already know, Joe Begos is a filmmaker to look out for. From his directorial debut Almost Human (2013) to Bliss (2019) (now on Shudder), this is another brilliant and masterful directorial by Begos. The blood almost feels like it’s splattering on you. Sometimes it takes on multiple angles that feels like you’re viewing it through someone else’s eyes.
For example, there’s a long shot that you see through the crackle of a fire. It looks like someone is looking up at Boz while he’s smoking. It instantly gives you a feeling of almost dread as it cuts back and forth to watching the guys barricade the VFW from his mutant punks to him, planning his next move. It’s so simple, but for this film, it feels so very right.
Begos’s direction is so on-point and pairs so well with the script by Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle. Everything is either fast or slow, high or low, personal or widespread; you never slow down, but when you do, it feels like a jolt to the system. Begos is the type of director who can deliver those moments of “what in the fuck just happened” and make them stick.
For this film, the script by Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle pins importance on friendship, the art of war, and survival. Brallier and McArdle do a spectacular job with the script, and especially the dialogue of this film. The dialogue is what got to me the most upon watching it again. I didn’t have much of an emotional investment the first time around. However, this time was a little bit different. You feel the emotional connection for the guys in the VFW. You pay attention to the witty banter, the shit talk, the stories, and it becomes something that’s all too real. Beyond fighting the mutant punks, you feel the friendship, then the need to survive. It almost reminisces what they probably needed to do to survive in their wars.
Speaking of the men, there’s no real way to describe them in this movie with anything other than fucking phenomenal. Stephen Lang (the most baddest of asses), William Sadler, Fred Williamson, Martin Kove, David Patrick Kelly, and George Wendt are MVPs when it comes to this movie. They’re action heroes in their own right, but together, they’re unstoppable. Even a new vet on the scene, Tom Williamson, is a welcome warrior to this incredible bunch. Each one of them has a character with their own code of honor, their own morals and ethics that are sometimes swayed and bent, but they’re always true to the mission at hand and true to their brothers in arms.
There’s also the mutant punks! There’s the scummy but cunning, not afraid to pull out his gun and shoot, HYPE dealer Boz, played by Travis Hammer. Although I found him a little cringeworthy at times, he was so unpredictable, and that’s what makes that character villainously genius. Then there’s his right-hand woman Gutter played by the memorizing Dora Madison. I swear you’re going to want to be her after this entire movie is through. She’s no-nonsense, cutthroat, and unafraid.
Lastly, there’s Lizard, played by Sierra McCormick. She’s the only criticism I have with this movie. She kicks off events so heavily that we really don’t know or care much about her in the end. I wish we got to know a little more about her (and perhaps her sister), but I’m almost happy it was this way. The guys in the VFW became the main focus. She soon finds out from an outsider’s sense of what it’s like to fight for something you believe in and with people who you trust.
There are a lot more reasons why I love this movie. Besides the characters, the setting, the directing, and the writing, there’s also the element of surprise that comes to every single scene. You never know what you’re going to get. There are many emotionally-driven moments, but it rips that away from you and balances it out with full-on blood and gore for your viewing pleasure. While you’re stuck in the house, I highly recommend turning off your brain and diving into VFW. After that, you should seriously watch Bliss and have a Joe Begos double feature, ’cause you know you’ll want to.
DVD/Blu-Ray Bonus Material
- Two Filmmaker Audio Commentaries
- The Making of VFW
- Meet the Cast of VFW
- The Special Make-Up Effects of VFW)
VFW is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, or 4k. You can also rent or buy the movie On Demand & Digital HD!