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A 17-year-old rebel without a home or a cause finds his voice in an underground community of battle rappers in writer-director Ed Lilly's assured debut feature. Co-written by Daniel Hayes, Vs. cuts a lyrical swagger to the same beat as the Eminem drama 8 Mile, relocating the lead character's turbulent rites of passage to Southend-on-Sea. The seafront arcades, cafes and windswept promenades provide a vivid backdrop to a mesmerising lead performance from Connor Swindells as a foster child, who has never fully extinguished a flame of hope that he might be reunited with his birth mother. His emotionally wrought journey of self-acceptance and forgiveness unfolds in a world where alienated youths 'roast' one another with slickly crafted insults to earn the roaring approval of battle crowds. Swindells powerfully conveys his teenager's simmering rage and despair, which is supplanted by cocksure arrogance when he earns the admiration of fellow rappers with his pithy rhymes. A seemingly conventional romantic subplot is neatly subverted for a final act of redemption and real-life rapper Adam Rooney aka Shotty Horroh brings fierce intensity and macho posturing to his verbal showdowns in an eye-catching supporting role. Adam (Swindells) has ricocheted between foster homes under the watchful eye of case worker Terry (Nicholas Pinnock). Every time the angry teenager seems to be making progress, he self-destructs. "You have one more fight and we're looking at secured residential," Terry warns his tightly coiled charge. The case worker calls in a favour and places Adam with Fiona (Ruth Sheen) in his birthplace of Southend-on-Sea. At one of the seafront arcades, Adam meets Makayla (Fola Evans-Akingbola), one of the figureheads of a flourishing underground scene of rappers, performance poets and quickfire wordsmiths, who choose to express themselves through verse. The 17-year-old gradually finds his voice and he seeks to impress a surrogate family including Blaze (Joivan Wade), Odds (Elliot Barnes-Worrell), Miss Quotes (Paigey Cakey) and reigning champion Slaughter (Shotty Horroh). In between composing lyrics, Adam delves into his past in the hope he might rebuild bridges to his biological mother Lisa (Emily Taaffe). "I wish you'd given me up at birth then I wouldn't give a damn about you," he rages as years of pent-up bitterness and confusion finally spill out. Vs. follows a predictable narrative trajectory as Connor learns the art of rapping while trying to keep his past a secret from rivals, who might use that deep-rooted pain to unsettle him in the battle ring. Swindells cuts a brooding central figure, resistant to letting people get close to him in case they abandon him too. Final scenes are too neat to be entirely convincing but dialogue is delivered at such breathless speed we can forgive Lilly's film for occasionally fluffing its lines.