Gather ’round, young ‘uns… it’s time for a lesson in true patriotism. The largely neglected 2019 release, VFW, has just dropped on Shudder, and it’s a must-see for everyone with the stones to deal with it.
First thing’s first: allow me to give you a little backstory regarding what the V.F.W. is and what they do. V.F.W. stands for Veterans of Foreign Wars, and it is an organization formed by and for U.S. war veterans who fought in wars, campaigns, and expeditions on foreign land, water, and airspace. They’ve been instrumental in securing benefits, care, and rehabilitation for our nation’s veterans and their families, and continue to serve the communities they fought to protect to the bitter end as a bastion of patriotism and respect.
VFW was filmed on-location at the real V.F.W. post located in Grand Prairie, TX (Post #2494), and many of the real vets that frequent it appear as extras in the film’s opening sequence. In the fictional dystopia of VFW, the opioid crisis that is indeed a real problem the United States is facing right now, has continued unchecked and addicts have turned to a new drug called “Hype” in the never-ending search for a better high. The city (never specified) has been ravaged by crime and the citizens appear to be left to their own devices as drug lords rule and law enforcement retreats. Located across the street from an abandoned building swarmed by dazed drug addicts, is the VFW where we meet our hard scrabble war heroes.
The vets are portrayed by some of the more obscure, but no less impactful bad asses in horror and action films to date. Stephen Lang, who recently turned an impressive performance as The Blind Man in 2016’s Don’t Breathe, plays Fred. Fred is a bartender and a man of principle who just wants to mind his own business until his bar is overrun by drug-addled punks. Walter Reed is played by William Sadler, best known in the horror community for his heroic turn in Tales From The Crypt’s 1995 feature film, Demon Knight. Former Raiders/Chiefs football star and “Blaxploitation” star of the early 1970s, Fred Williamson is tough as nails Abe Hawkins. The king of Cobra Kai, himself – Martin Kove – is a man on the edge as Lou Clayton. Once a punk himself as T-Bird in The Crow (1994), David Patrick Kelly is ready to “fire it up” again as Doug McCarthy. Newcomer Tom Williamson (All Cheerleaders Die – 2013) is gulf war veteran, Shaun Mason. And no bar would be complete without George Wendt (Cheers – 1982) holding a seat in this bar as Thomas “Z” Zabrinski.
The story begins as Lizard (Sierra McCormick) discovers that her hype-addicted sister has died at the hands of Boz, the local supplier. In a momentarily stupid act of revenge, she steals his inventory and makes a run for it, but now without getting caught and leading an army of pissed off druggies right to the VFW where she attempts to hide. No better place to go in this case, as the men spring into action protecting her and the VFW from a bunch of crazed junkies.
Boarding up the joint won’t hold forever. Negotiations are out of the question. War is the only option.
With minimal weaponry, but the skill to create their own and fight like hell, VFW becomes a bloodbath to rival the grittiest and goriest of Tarantino. It has the clever dialogue and star performances to match. However, perhaps in haste to get to the gory goodness, the filmmakers failed to provide a truly solid battleground for the gang of patriots to fight on.
The already solid concepts of war vets continuing the fight for good on home soil would have been better served with a more comprehensive setting and reason to fight. Give us a city. Do more than just tell us that the world has gone to hell and drive us around to look at buildings covered in graffiti. Make us think it’s worth it to protect this girl that, as far as I can tell, though she’s pissed about the death of her sister, is likely also a junkie and little respect for the men coming to her aid unsolicited. The punks and junkies don’t strike fear in the heart, nor do their performances (save for Dora Madison as Gutter who seems to leap straight out of the world of Mad Max – 1979 and Doomsday – 2008) anywhere near match those of our veterans. I find it difficult to really worry about who will win in the end.
The low lighting and sometimes disorienting red/blue color scheme does nothing to help matters when trying to discern the fast-paced action scenes or simply revel in the performances of the star-studded cast. At times, it was so distracting, I would have missed some of the best one-liners and key moments if I hadn’t gone back to watch it a second time with the lights in my house off completely, and the picture on my television adjusted accordingly. One should never have to expend such effort to be entertained.
Despite its shortcomings, the film still has and interesting and original idea to present, and is the first film in recent memory to take on the question of what my happen should the opioid crisis in America continue flying under the radar as more and more become hooked and desperate, and drug kingpins continue to take advantage of that desperation.
There is no question that the cast and the concept is what carries this vehicle into watch-worthy status, but I certainly don’t want this to discourage you from checking it out. VFW is one hefty contribution to horror and the generational clash. It is currently streaming on Shudder. Don’t miss it!
Sorry kids, the Boomers win this one. Hands down.