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LFF 2018: VS. review - lacklustre battle rap films falls flat

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Verdict: A lacklustre film that should be vibrant and urgent, but somehow just isn’t.

VS. follows troubled teen Adam (Connor Swindells), whose foster home to foster home existential angst is fuelled by the knowledge that his mother gave him up when he was a child.

Arriving back in his seaside hometown, he finds himself drawn into the world of battle rapping by the beautiful Makayla (Fola Evans-Akingbola). Challenging the big boss Slaughter (Shotty Horror) gets him in trouble with some, and into the good books of others, as the politics of his newfound family are more complicated than he expected.

While the verses themselves are hit and miss throughout, when they hit, they hit. Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect between the audience and the stakes of the game. Far more interesting than Adam are Makayla and Miss Quotes (Paigey Cakey - the only female battler in the film), yet they remain the background to Adam’s painfully dull family drama.

Teen romances and betrayals can, of course, be the centre of a film and feel profound, but VS. somewhat misses the mark. Each of the actors seem most comfortable when rapping, and distinctly less so when carrying the rest of the film.

The First Purge breakout Joivan Wade is wasted in a criminally small role, while Evans-Akingbola’s role is flat and uninteresting until a twist that should be the focus of the film, and yet is passed over once more.

Clunky storytelling and cringe-worthy dialogue doesn’t wholly detract from the relative excitement of the battles themselves, but to those unfamiliar with the medium, it’s mostly underwhelming. Insults go too far and end up being tasteless and offensive — sometimes the film makes a point out of that, but other times it lets them slide.

When it comes down to it, the film simply isn’t as gritty as it’s trying to be. It doesn’t help that literally all of the secondary characters are black, as it fundamentally the medium itself, yet both the hero and the villain of the piece are both white and considered to be the best at what they do.

A standard sports movie structure is interspersed with therapy sessions and a few glimmering moments of hidden talent from Swindells, who finally rises to the task in the emotional climax of the film.

This film is nothing more than a springboard for young talent that hopefully will go on to better things. What could have been an eye-opening, electric piece of youth culture sadly falls flat.

VS. is in cinemas on October 19th. Watch an exclusive clip from the film below.

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