Glasgow FrightFest 2020: VFW
Director: Joe Begos
Writers: Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle
Starring: Stephen Lang, Martin Kove, David Patrick Kelly, William Sadler, Sierra McCormick, Dora Madison, Fred Williamson, George Wendt
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.
K. I have been champing at the bit to see VFW since it was first announced and I’m thrilled to report that it’s a fucking home run! But really, given the combination of talents here and the simple but stirring premise how could it not be? Just when you thought Joe Begos couldn’t top himself, he goes and tops himself. Coming off of the masterpiece that is Bliss, he wisely switches gears and genres, making something a bit more heartfelt while still being balls-to-the-wall insane. Assembling a cast that is a who’s who of great character actors: Stephen Lang, Martin Kove, David Patrick Kelly, William Sadler, Fred Williamson, and George Wendt. Actors who are so rarely asked to fully exert their talents, they shine as grizzled, yet lovable war veterans with a little fight left in them. It’s a pleasure to see actors I’ve admired for so long get some real juicy roles to sink their teeth into. John Carpenter reverberates through this film in all the right ways, from the Assault on Precinct 13 siege premise to the Escape From New York style dystopian future. To the score by Steve Moore which sprinkles little sonic nods to Carpenter throughout. The filmmakers transmute these influences in fun and satisfying ways to give us a thrilling and stylish ride. After making this and Bliss back to back, Begos is a goddamn midnight movie making machine. I’ll watch anything his name is attached to at this point. C. Is it an early John Carpenter’ throwback? Will you predict every twist and turn? Does it have a lot of common character-types and conflicts with most siege films? Yes... But DAMN it’s a fun ride. Between the three of us, especially getting the opportunity to review Bliss (Begos last film), the conversation would occasionally come up if Begos could handle someone else’s script. While a lot of directors only use their own work and that comes with its benefits, for me, a director really shows their worth when they can take another’s words and make it their own. Begos does it exceptionally. While it’s not as personal to his own life as Bliss, I’d argue that he benefits more from VFW. Underneath the 80s nostalgia is a lot of heart that shows Begos’ step into the realm of emotional maturity required from a seasoned director. That emotion is what saves it from becoming another fanboy movie to show everyone how great the 80s were. This is where credit is due to Fangoria’s productions, with Puppet Master, Satanic Panic, and now this, they’ve made fun, nostalgia horror that acknowledges the newer generations while giving us a strong connection to its characters. Speaking of characters, the cast is amazing with veteran genre actors finally getting roles that highlight their talents and make them more than a trope. As I commented on our Bliss review, VFW is stylized in such a way that any technical issues that arise could be chalked up to “purposeful.” The major example of this is the stylistic grain mixed with the low lighting makes for very dark (lighting-wise) film. I know that darkness helps to hide any budgetary issues but there were parts especially early on that I felt like I couldn’t see anything… and they weren’t scenes that felt intentional. It’s easy for me to say this is my favorite of Begos’ work so far, a director that within a year has proven himself to be a force to reckon with. J. Good Lord, where to even begin with this film… it’s a little bit Escape From New York and alot of Assault on Precinct 13 but on a shit ton of steroids. The cast is nothing short of amazing and you genuinely give a shit about all of them. So much so that anytime one of them died I was sad because they were no longer going to be part of the story. There is so much brutal, over the top carnage and mayhem to appease the hardest of hardcore gorehounds too. And it was hilarious too. All these veteran actors shared such tremendous chemistry and camaraderie that you couldn’t help but root for them. Joe Begos has been a favorite of mine for a while now and I was somewhat surprised to see him directing a script he didn’t write with VFW but rest assured, his stamp is all over this raw, brutal beast. It’s early in the year as I’m writing this but dare I say, this is already a contender for my film of the year for 2020.
C. I think we all seem to be in agreement with the awesomeness of this film… However, I may not share in the unhealthy obsession that plagues certain members of this group. As someone who’s exhausted by all these “homage” films and is dying to see filmmakers striving for evolution instead of contributing to South Park’s memberberries, this not only won me over but proved to become an instant favorite. J. Film of the Year 2020 (so far but may end up unanimous at the end of 2020 also). K. There is no denying the badassery of VFW. This is a unanimous must see. I went back for seconds, catching it on Valentine’s Day in its brief run at the Arclight and it was even better the second time around. Seeing those grizzled character actors digging into their meaty roles and the stylish lighting and cinematography on the big screen was a pleasure. I look forward to rewatching this one on blu ray for years to come. Bloodhound’s average score: 5 out of 5