Wednesday, March 25, 2020

VFW (2019)

Theoretically, VFW post commander Fred (Stephen Lang) was planning to spend the night of his birthday at the post, getting drunk with his vet buddies (William Sadler, Fred Williamson, Martin Kove, David Patrick Kelly, George Wendt) – well, and the young guy (Tom Williamson) who just came in returning from one of the USA’s fresher wars. However, when the hour gets a little late, a young woman we will later learn goes by the charming moniker of Lizard (Sierra McCormick) runs in, hunted by the henchpeople and drug slaves of drug lord Boz (Travis Hammer). Lizard, you understand, has stolen Boz’s stash in revenge for his murder of her sister.

The elderly vets don’t cotton to a bunch of armed freaks storming into their post trying to murder an unarmed woman, and a couple of wounded vets and dead baddies later, they find they have stumbled into your classic siege scenario, not just attacked by Boz and his actual gang but also a horde of guys and gals in thrall to the particularly nasty version of speed Boz hawks. The police don’t come to this part of town on patrol, and phones don’t work, so the men and Lizard will have to fend for themselves, at least until morning.

Joe Begos’s newest – made for nuFangoria - is very much a film in love with the magic of low budget and direct to DVD cinema of ye olden times (okay, mostly the 80s and John Carpenter’s 70s), but it’s also a film that mixes its influences inventively – sometimes even wildly - enough so that it doesn’t feel like a retro re-tread and more like a love letter. If you take your love letters with rather a lot of gorily mushed heads.

For gorily mushed heads really seem to be Begos’s thing here, with nary a noggin that isn’t smashed, mushed, caved in or otherwise made rather unattractive during the course of the movie. The action is very focused on highly messy melees with improvised weapons, the experienced troupe of actors and a consciously messy looking editing job selling everything as fun yet gruesome in exactly the kind of way old school horror and action fans will like it, often feeling more like a fever dream of near-post-apocalyptic action movies of years past than the way those films actually were.

Begos is rather good with fever dreams, as should be clear from his filmography by now, though the film at hand’s tendency to drench everything in reds and blacks isn’t as fantastically psychedelic as his work in Bliss. This one’s a looser, less deep film that’s focussed on fun violence and a bit of hero worship towards its cast.

But then, these guys are rather wonderful (obviously), and Begos knows it as well as the film’s probable audience (me included) does, so between the moments of carnage, there’s many a scene of the old dudes shooting the shit, revealing their traumata in ways that seem appropriately reticent and grumpy for men their ages, or just hanging around looking tense. And really, for a film that simply could get away with having Lang swinging an axe at punks and Fred Williams slitting throats and punching heads (always the heads!), there’s a pleasantly surprising amount of space for actual characterisation of these old soldiers as portrayed by old soldiering actors, Begos clearly preferring the looser Howard Hawks model of the siege movie to more modern sensibilities of how tight a movie is allowed to be.

VFW is a lovely effort, clearly made on the cheap, but carried by a mixture of filmmaking chops, wonderful aged character and action actors (and a couple of good young ones), and an abiding love for lethal head trauma.

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