From the trailer, it may be tempting to simply call VS. the UK’s version of 8 Mile. Yes, there’s battle rapping & a white rapper at the lead of the story, but that’s where comparisons to Eminem’s 2002 semi-autobiographical film come to an end – and that’s a good thing. VS. is very much its own film, one which knows its audience and is of its time, the result is a wonderful coming of age drama which will resonate particularly well with younger audiences who’ve followed online UK HipHop / Grime platforms and seen their growth over the years.
The film follows 17-year-old Adam (played by Connor Swindells) as he moves into a new foster home in Southend and is befriended by Makayla (played by Fola Evans-Akingbola), he is then introduced to the world of battle rap. For those unfamiliar to the world of battle rap, over the past decade, globally the scene has evolved into its own distinct subculture within Hip Hop, with the likes of U.S based promotion, Ultimate Rap league; Candian promotion, King of The Dot & the UK’s very own Don’t Flop (co-founder, Eurgh makes a very brief cameo appearance). And despite being rap battles themselves being confrontational, the film also does a great job in depicting the relative comradery that exists within U.K battle rap community.
In telling the story of Adam’s foray into battle rap, co-writers Daniel Haynes & Ed Lilly (who also serves as the film’s director) have done a great job interweaving many topics into the film: the challenges of the foster care system, broken homes, sexual identity & using rap as a vehicle for self expression. The writers have managed to give each of these key areas its own time and place within the film, giving VS. enough depth to prevent the film feeling one dimensional. Many of the films most gripping moments are found in Adam’s interactions with his mother, Lisa (played by Emily Taaffe) and with Adam expressing his frustration with the foster care system that he feels trapped in. After this lead role performance, expect to see Connor Swindells in many more movies. Adam Rooney (real-life battle rapper Shotty Horror), also fits into his role effortlessly as the battle rapper, Slaughter. The rest of the cast has been carefully selected, with the likes of veteran actor, Nicholas Pinnock; actor/rapper, Paigey Cakey and rising star, Jovian Wade all fitting in perfectly to the film.
VS. will instantly find a home with those who follow battle rap and online Hip Hop / Grime media platforms such as LinkUp TV & GRM Daily. However, for those simply looking for a refreshing British coming of age story, look no further.
Verdict: (4 / 5)
VS. is released October 19th in UK Cinemas.