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VET THE RIGHT ONE IN
Review: RJ Bland
There is no denying that for decades, Fangoria was one of the most recognisable names within the horror industry. The company folded in 2016 but just over a year later the brand was revived and since then (Cinestate scandal aside) they have been busy not only on the magazine front, but also in the production of genre films. Satanic Panic and Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich are both Fangoria produced and there are also others in the works too – including a Castle Freak remake (intrigued by that one) and exorcism horror The Seventh Day (directed by Justin P. Lange). Their latest title to hit streaming platforms (such is the way now) is 'VFW' – the title of which won't really mean anything to you unless you live in the US or have some half decent knowledge of the military.
Set in the not too distant future, a group of war veterans share stories and drinks in a rundown bar, run by one of their own (Stephen Laing). It's a bit of a dive but it's a VFW bar – for veterans of foreign wars – and for most of small group of friends it's like a second home. However, as they celebrate one of the gang's birthday, their merriment is shattered by the arrival of a teenager who bursts in with a couple of assailants hot on her heels. Before you know it, you've got two dead bad guys and an injured war vet. As more and more hyped up bad guys converge on the bar, the old timers have a decision to make. Hand over the girl or make a stand? I think you've probably got a good idea which option they pick...
Imagine a cross between From Dusk Til Dawn and Assault on Precinct 13 – and you will have a pretty reasonable grasp of what to expect from VFW. The premise is wonderfully simple (although that's to the film's detriment in some ways) and allows the audience to just kick back and enjoy 90 minutes or so of a group of seniors dispatching a host of baddies in a variety of violent ways. It's like a grungy version of The Expendables and if you're hoping for lots of boozy banter and action then you're going to find that in spades here.
Director Joe Begos presents it all with suitably pulpy sensibilities and inflects it with a retro synthy score (those are all the range now don't you know?) and a neon glow, which makes it all feel a bit Nicolas Winding Refn (although it includes none of the pretension). Who said grindhouse couldn't look good huh? The film is unashamedly Carpenteresque in it's aesthetic and that's going to hit a home run with many viewers.
The casting is another win – with the group of vets being played by a host of familiar faces including Fred Williamson, William Sadler and David Patrick Kelly. VFW does a solid job in setting up a group of characters who are both flawed but likeable – and in the process makes it all feel like a little bit more than just a brainless action flick. But it's Stephen Laing who is especially good as the guy who has swapped shooting guns for pulling pints and who is forced to reactivate his old combat skills. The bad guys are less notable but let's face it, most of them are just there to get their heads busted open (or lopped off).
The films dedication to bloodshed and action makes it a lot of fun but it ultimately results in a lack of focus on character and plot. The dank, murky bar which acts as a perfect backdrop to the action begins to feel a little stale and when the film requires some imaginative flourishes, the film falls down a little. If in doubt, just have some drugged up nutter try and break in again and have someone axe him in the head. Job done. That might work the first couple of times but it's not too long before you find yourself hoping that VFW takes a turn somewhere else – but it doesn't really. You've seen this formula plenty of times before but there's something kind of comforting in that familiarity.
VFW may be grizzled, old school and macho – just like it's central characters. But it's an adrenaline fuelled, full-throttle bloodfest. And, despite a few wobbles, it's still able to pack a punch.
VFW is a gloriously violent and stylish update of the kind of grindhouse stuff that was prevalent in a bygone era. Although it loses it's edge a little late on, the stellar cast and non-stop action make for a fun ride.
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