12th Feb2019

‘VS.’ DVD Review

by Kevin Haldon

Stars: Connor Swindells, Adam ‘Shotty Horroh’ Rooney, Fola Evans-Akingbola, Nicholas Pinnock, Ruth Sheen, Emily Taaffe, MC Paige “Paigey Cakes” Meade, Joivan Wade | Written by Ed Lilly, Daniel Hayes | Directed by Ed Lilly

VS_2D_DVD

VS. is an urban rites of passage drama set in the hostile and exciting UK rap battle scene.

That is the synopsis for VS. on the IMDB but I’m here to tell you that this movie is so so much more than this. This is one of the most powerful, thought provoking, superbly acted, respectfully told and emotionally driven movies I personally have had the pleasure of seeing in quite some time. I will get into the plot and subject matter now in a minute, but up front I would like to admit that this movie spoke to my heart and broke through a wall I didn’t think needed broken through. Yes, it’s a low budget independent movie from a debut director about the underground battle rap scene in Britain, but it reduced this 34 year old man to being about 10 again (and not in a Jurassic Park seeing dinosaurs on screen for the first time nostalgia kind of way).

First time Director Ed Lilly has put together an amazing group of young and fresh, up and coming stars and crafted a truly beautiful, gritty and raw tale of one mans use of the lyrical poetry that is battle rap to simultaneously mask his pain and anger while working through his inner demons, only to discover a true family and camaraderie in the last place he expected. That’s just whats on the surface.

Adam has spent a life in the foster care system and it hasn’t been great to him, passed from home to home and never truly settling in wherever he is. His next stop is Southend and this could be the last chance saloon for Adam. Enter Makayla a young idealistic woman trying to make the best of it. Adam instantly takes a liking to Makayla as she introduces him to the underground Rap Battle scene. While Makayla sees this outlet as a way of making a better more tolerable life for herself and the colourful competitors, Adam sees a place he can truly let his hurt, pain and rage flow. While Adam proves to be a rising talent on the scene he is also dealing with the re-introduction to the woman who gave him away aged four… Both of Adams worlds are on a collision course and we are about to find out the type of man he wants to be.

It is very easy to say that this is trying to be the Brit equivalent of 8-Mile (and people have been) but while I love that movie it can only wish to have the heart of VS. I do love the rap battle sequences and having Shotty Horroh (legend on the UK Rap Battle scene, YouTube him for an education) in the movie really adds to the sense of them trying to portray this life properly. However this movie lives and breathes with the outstandingly raw and real performances from the core cast.

Connor Swindells as Adam is unbelievable. A true revelation, A 10 out of 10 performance. Now I have to put it out there and be honest, I myself grew up in the system and while I didn’t exactly have the worst time of it I can absolutely relate to the portrayal put in by Connor. This is also a testament to the writing team of Director Ed Lilly and Daniel Hayes, they hit the nail on the head completely, The writing is so visceral that one scene in particular was a gut punch to this reviewer because I had legitimately lived the conversation and Connors performance in that scene is on another level (no spoilers but its the first real conversation he has with his mum). Swindells makes this movie an intense but rewarding journey to be part of.

Fola Evans-Akingbola is wonderful as Makayla and really holds the key to this movie. Most of the choices made by Adam revolve around her actions, while we are more focused on what is happening in his life Akingbola pushes her performance forward to show us she also is struggling through. Nicholas Pinnock, Ruth Sheen and Emily Taaffe round out the care system aspect of the movie as Adams care worker, foster carer and biological mum respectively. These sections of the movie are dealt with a great deal of attention and respect which was refreshing because here in the UK we tend to be very harsh on the system (especially in the media) but this movie shows both sides of the story. Then there is the scene I briefly spoke of earlier… Emily Taaffe, take a bow because damn you are incredible in this scene.

On the Rap Battle side of things we have massively talented Adam “Shotty Horroh” Rooney in his acting debut, I will admit when I first saw him I was dubious but he is essentially playing a version of himself and the moments that he gets to do something other than rap well he holds his own. The same can be said about MC Paige “Paigey Cakes” Meade as Miss Quotes to be fair though this isn’t her first time.

Okay then, I guess its no surprise to anyone by now that I would hugely recommend this movie. I went in expecting to see 8-Mile or Bodied set in the UK but what followed was a story I just did not expect, performances that blew me away; and a movie hit me where I live. Is it perfect? Not at all, what film is, but hey its pretty damn close. See this movie soon as you can.

VS. is out now on DVD and VOD from Altitude.

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