A Fantastic Fest 2019 Review
After Bliss, Joe Begos’s previous film, VFW had a hard act to follow. It can’t quite live up to the punk-rock glory of its predecessor, but that doesn’t stop it from being a bloody good time.
The film is set at a run-down VFW post that has the misfortune of neighbouring a drug den. Hype, a highly addictive drug, has turned America into a war zone, leaving its users willing to do anything for the next high. But after seeing what drug lord Boz (Travis Hammer) has done to her sister, Lizard (Sierra McCormick) steals his supply and seeks refuge at the VFW. There, the local vets must make a choice: throw her out to the dogs, or defend their post to the death.
Begos has assembled a fantastic cast of actors to play the vets, including Stephen Lang, Fred Williamson, Bill Sadler, and Martin Kove, and they are by far the best part of the film. The banter between their characters never fails to stir a smile, with Lang and Sadler being particularly compelling.
The downside of this is that the rest of the characters feel even more hollow and underdeveloped in comparison. Other than a vague gesture at a backstory with her sister, Lizard feels like a blank slate, speaking only a handful of words throughout the runtime. Dora Madison makes an appearance as one of Boz’s lieutenants, but after her powerhouse performance in Bliss, it’s disappointing to see her given virtually nothing to do.
The rest of the punk army is also underwhelming. The film promised “mutant punks,” but if you didn’t know that going in, you’d be hard pressed to find much evidence of mutation. Lizard’s sister has some interesting makeup in the opening scene, but after she exits the movie, that plot thread seems to have been dropped. Even with the film’s obvious budget limitations, there are some really cool directions they could have taken this in, and the wasted potential is a shame.
Of course, it’s possible that some of the other punks did have makeup on their faces, but it’s hard to tell; the blocking in the fight scenes can make it difficult to know exactly what’s happening, or even who is fighting who. Despite this, the kills are frenetic and entertaining, and watching the vets relive their glory days is deliriously fun.
VFW is trying hard to be an 80s throwback, and while it has the style in the bag, it struggles to develop much of an identity of its own. Engaging but imperfect, the grit and gore will pump you up even if the script is a bit of a letdown.
Words: Samantha McLaren (@themeatispeople)