Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Full of gruesome violence but with a lot of heart, VFW is best watched as part of an audience, or at least with a group of friends and a good quantity of drink."

From the moment that Steve Moore’s John Carpenteresque score starts up over the opening credits, it’s clear what kind of film VFW is going to be. Very much in the vein of director Joe Begos’ 2015 genre hit The Mind’s Eye (which also featured Moore’s work), it’s an Eighties influenced, anarchic, leather-jacketed battle to the death in which neither side takes prisoners, but this time the presence of veteran actor Stephen Lang lends it an unexpected touch of class.

Lang plays Fred, a Vietnam war veteran who just wants to enjoy another quiet night behind the bar at his local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) centre, drinking whisky and talking to his buddies. Unfortunately it’s his birthday and they want to take him to a strip club, an idea he really doesn’t find appealing. Still more unfortunately, whilst the group of them are having one for the road a teenage kid bursts in, seeking refuge in the toilets – and Hell follows after.

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The kid is Lizard (Sierra McCormick), who has impulsively decided to take revenge on the gang of punks who killed her sister by stealing their drugs, and has barely escaped with her life after being caught in the act. Now the gang wants the drugs back and wants to make an example of the kid, but Fred is not the kind of guy to just hand over a vulnerable teenager, and most of his friends agree. As he’s led some of them in combat in the past and is the undisputed top dog in the group, they’re all ready to follow his lead, with even new guy Shawn (Tom Williamson), who just wandered in for his first drink there after returning from Afghanistan, stepping up in support. So they fortify the base and prepare for a siege in which all their military skills will be put to the test.

The iconic image of the tough guy Vietnam veteran doesn’t quite play out the same way now that these guys are in their seventies. Begos is smart enough to know this are is realistic about what they can do, having them rely more on cunning and a willingness to use dirty tricks than on speed or muscle power. Under Fred’s tutelage, Lizard, despite being tiny, proves more than capable of contributing to her own defence, and as the fight wears on a bond develops between the two of them, with the suggestion that all she really needed to keep her from sinking into the same sorry state as the enemy was discipline and something to believe in.

Full of gruesome violence but with a lot of heart, VFW is best watched as part of an audience, or at least with a group of friends and a good quantity of drink. Its characters are crudely drawn but nicely acted so that we get to know them better than is usual in this sort of story. The bad guy is a little thinly sketched but works well enough and his hordes of followers have a lot of individual gimmicks to keep things interesting. It’s unfortunate that the combination of small spaces and low light makes some of the action sequences hard to follow, and the film could do with losing ten minutes to tighten up the pace overall, but there’s still a lot to enjoy.

The revelation that older people can be action heroes without having to be passed off as being just the same as they were at 25 has been gradually spreading through cinema in recent years and Begos’ film is a nice contribution. VFW may not exactly be sophisticated but it’s brash, ballsy and a lot of fun to watch.

VFW is now available on Digital Download and will come out on DVD and Blu-ray on 6 April.

Reviewed on: 08 Mar 2020
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A group of war veterans must defend their local VFW post and an innocent teenager against a deranged drug dealer and his relentless army of punk mutants.

Director: Joe Begos

Writer: Max Brallier, Matthew McArdle

Starring: Martin Kove, Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Sierra McCormick

Year: 2019

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2020

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