The Fresh Politics of Old VFW
The first part of Joe Begos’ latest vet versus drugged up punk siege film introduces us to our less than merry band of war vets. Lead by Fred played masterfully by Stephen Lang the group is all rough edges and angles. They tell war stories, drink too much, and yes occasionally talk about going to the strip club down the street. Those war stories inevitably get into how terrible war is and how lasting the psychological scars. The politics of war are pretty clear and as one character discusses the different wars each character fought in War itself seems to become a character in the film. Especially when the movie links up with the youngest vet Shawn who is back from a tour in the middle east. The movie knows these guys are older. It also knows the sacrifices they have made in the name of our country. It doesn’t dwell on it but rather treats it as a known fact. While VFW jokes about their age its never at the expense of the characters. Its also never at the cost of the younger characters even when they are villains. What makes VFW so different and so innovative is just how apolitical it is.
Herditary and Generational Horror
Look I get it. Old people can be scary. Also as I turn into old person myself young people can be equally scary for different reasons. Movies like Hereditary or The Visit (both movies I love} explored this phenomena quite well. The crone is well trafficked horror trope that continues to remain relevant and prevalent in the world of horror. Those tropes and ideas carry with them baggage though. When we constantly have movies that treat young folks as the heroes and we finally get a movie where the heroes are purposely older the first reaction could be to have them win at the expense of the younger generation. Using wisdom and patience to win the day. Older folks enacting their sweet ass revenge they have waited so long to get. That is not this movie. Where the above movies use age as large parts of the movie thus making the movie essentially about those things VFW is both more interesting and less complex. The older folks in VFW are not patient or full of avuncular advice. They are all badass and can adapt to their environment. That is why they win.
Fighting Foreign Wars At Home
At its core VFW is siege film pitting a group of senior citizens against a group of drugged up pseudo punks. The opening crawl informs us that in the near future the cities have become lawless places of pure violence as the drug HYPE has taken over. The police have retreated and the drug dealers rule. Cities as cesspools and crackheads running the streets already put me into a specific headspace. I was geared up for a horror movie that treated these urban jungles and their diversity as threats.
Begos ain’t down for that. In fact the vets are as diverse as the punks. I cannot help but think Begos was careful not to create or entrench typical tribal battle lines but is trying to craft a new type of us vs. them narrative.Tyler Unsell
At least four of these vets we meet (including the main character Fred) could be painted as MAGA hat wearing Trump fans. Indeed they may still be but the movie isn’t interested in exploring that side o them. However, I might point their treatment of younger folk, people of color, and women might give me some pause even if they ended up agreeing with their political demographic.
The inclusion of a young vet and the movie’s avoidance of “you millenials” jokes also points out just how restrained Begos is with VFW’s messaging. While we get a lot of “you fart dust” jokes from and about the aging vets in the bar we get very few jokes about how lazy the younger generation is (not a single reference to avocado toast). In fact there is only one line that uses the word millenial and it is a joke but its stated in such a matter of fact way at the very end of the film it felt perfunctory. Like a grandfather lovingly calling her grandkids ‘sons of bitches’ (maybe my grandparents were different than yours). It never pits old vs new. Theres is not a generational conflict just a moral one.
The Anti Turino
If Gran Turino were a horror movie IT WOULD NOT BE THIS ONE. The old people do not learn to be less racist, or more forgiving, or less curmudgeonly. The young people do not learn to be properly respectful or less loud, or better listeners. The good guys share traits across generations and while the bad guys are younger it’s more a bug and less a feature. It sure seems like the way Hype works it probably kills folks before they get old making old punks non existent (kind of like real life). VFW is fair to its older characters. They retain the ability to adapt quite well. In fact, there is a Home Alone montage that had me cheering in my Millennial seat. The most powerful message of the film is that when different generations work together they can conquer anything. First comes coked-up Sid Vicious wannabes, next time Climate Change…maybe.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.