LFF 2018: Lose Yourself In The Southend Battle-Rap Scene With 'Vs.' [Review]

on Friday, October 19, 2018
'Vs.' (UK Release: 19 October 2018) // Words: Saam Das

It's sixteen years since '8 Mile' brought battle-rap to the big screen in a big way, garnering an Oscar for Best Original Song for its star Eminem and his smash 'Lose Yourself'. British writer-director Ed Lilly's debut directorial feature 'Vs.' brings battle-rap back to the mainstream, albeit via sunny Southend rather than bleak Detroit, with a striking central performance from newcomer Conor Swindells.

Swindells portrays Adam, whose recent life history involves a series of foster homes, before finding himself back in his native Southend, where he grew up with his biological mother. Tasked with staying out of trouble, Adam meets Mackayla (Fola Evans-Akingbola) in one of Southend's many amusement arcades, who introduces him to her other world, the burgeoning Southend battle-rap scene.

Adam's 'gift of the gab' and longing for a sense of belonging bring him to the forefront of the scene, thanks to Mac's encouragement, although he soon finds a nemesis in the snarling Slaughter (IRL battle-rapper Shotty Horroh, a regular collaborator of Deadmau5) who is unimpressed by the upstart. Lilly showcases the battles in a suitable fashion, highlighting the wit and tension that juxtaposes these contests of one-upmanship - with the aid of other names from the UK battle-rap scene, including Shuffle T whose self-deprecating style was a joy at a live rap battle held at the film's premiere at this year's London Film Festival.

Outside of the underground scene, Adam battles his own emotions and troubles in the real world, with Lilly and Swindells showcasing a believable vulnerability, particularly in Adam's interactions with his new foster mum and his social worker - impressive supporting turns by Ruth Sheen and Nicholas Pinnock respectively. The film veers into the melodramatic with increasing frequency and ultimately toward a more Hollywood direction but nonetheless, 'Vs.' largely feels authentic and engaging. A coming-of-age film with a difference.


'Vs.' premiered at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival, and opens across UK cinemas today. Find more info and screenings of the film at vsfilm.co.uk.

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