After Bliss came out on VOD only a few months ago, director Joe Begos’ second feature is already out: VFW, starring Stephen Lang, Fred Williamson and Martin Kove, among many other renown character-actors, is now available on Apple TV and Fandango Now.
Despite not being a huge fun of Bliss (it’s a good movie, it just didn’t click with me) and not having seen any of Begos’ previous work, I was really looking forward to VFW, as the movie was marketed as a gory and violent action-horror piece. Basically, I expected an entertaining, fast-paced and enjoyable watching experience. Does the film deliver on its premise?
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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VFW: plot and references
As I said, from VFW I just wanted a fun and gory watching experience. This is due to the simplicity of the story: through a couple of title cards and establishing shots during the opening credits, we learn this movie is set in a near future where opioids have evolved and created tons of addicts who are ready to kill or die to get their dose. In this context, we’re introduced to Fred (Stephen Lang), a Vietnam vet who runs a dive bar: one night, his friends – including fellow veterans Walter (William Sadler), Lou (Kove) and Abe (Williamson) – are all there to celebrate Fred’s birthday. Everything is fine and dandy, until a young girl, Lizard (Sierra McCormick), who has stolen several packages of “hype” from the sociopathic Boz (Travis Hammer), decides to hide there. Boz sends his goons and an army of “hypers” to recover the drug and kill whoever is in the place… but he underestimated Fred and his friends’ abilities.
Instead of choosing the easy route and presenting itself as a straight-forward action-horror flick, VFW elevates its simple story through many aspects. First and foremost, this film is a homage to 1970s, early 1980s grindhouse B-movies, filled with subtle and clever references to forgotten and underappreciated flicks from that era – as well as a few references to culturally relevant and more recent hits like Terminator 2 and Planet Terror. Unlike many other horror flicks that have only nostalgia-bait going for them, VFW manages to be a truly thought-out and committed homage to the 70s, mostly due to its impressive presentation and fantastic practical effects.
Style in service of violence and gore
Although Joe Begos’ Bliss is a very stylish film, I didn’t expect this filmmaker to be able to recreate to nearly perfection the look and feel of a 70s grindhouse flick. From the credits to colour palette and cinematography, VFW genuinely feels like a 70s B-movie that was just rediscovered and distributed to modern audiences. The editing, which includes unnoticeable details such as fake hard cuts and mistakes, and the camera-work, filled with purposely dated zooms, are simply perfect given the goal of the film. Yet, VFW features an impressive soundtrack that – for the most part – seems plucked out of the 70s in a way that enhances the throwback feel of this picture. Unfortunately, during some of the most intense action scenes, the sound designers added some modern sounds and audio effects that feel too modern and, thus, out-of-place.
Regardless, the thoughtful and meticulous presentation is very suitable for the amazing gore and over-the-top violence featured in VFW. Thanks to the FX team, this film features quite a few memorable scenes filled with blood and gruesome action, which are shot in a rather creative and exciting way. Sometimes hard to watch and other times exhilarating, the gory action is definitely one of the show-stealers in this movie.
Adrenaline-pumped war vets vs drug-crazed addicts
Another big reason why the violence in this film works is the commitment from the actors, namely Stephen Lang, to give their all in every intense sequence. In fact, every performance in the film is very suitable for what script and presentation require from the cast: none of the actors are asked to do anything particularly complicated, so they can shine in doing what they do best. Also, considering VFW is supposed to be a homage to 70s B-movies, every over-the-top and “offensive” line in the movie can be seen as nothing more than the recreation of a sub-genre that’s product of its time.
The character development is, here, nearly non-existent. However, that’s not a negative in this specific case, as we are just introduced to a bunch of characters out of the blue and we only witness them trying to survive from tons of drug-crazed addicts.
As I briefly mentioned before, the main issue with VFW is the misplaced modern music during some of the most enthralling scenes. Besides, the 10/15 minutes between the opening credits and the moment where mayhem ensues feel quite dull and unnecessary. Other than that, though, every other aspect in the movie truly works, from the insane gore to the fantastic stylisation.
I expected VFW to be a 6/10, watch-it-once action-horror flick, but it turned out to be much more than that: this is a great action-horror movie, a fantastic and accurate homage to 70s grindhouse filmmaking and a very well-presented film. Whether you’re after mindless entertainment or purposeful filmmaking, I would strongly recommend watching VFW!
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