Film Review: The Cypher ★★★1/2

Due to have its world premiere at Tribeca 2020, director Letia Solomon’s gripping short film The Cypher, written by Wes Akwuobi focuses on Khalil (Nigel Cox) as he prepares to face Yung Reap (O’Shay Neal) in a freestyle rap battle in Philadelphia. Wasting no time, the film opens mid-action with the semi-final of The Cypher freestyle competition in full swing, strikingly lit with stylish slow mo and intense close-ups and dynamic cinematography by Basil Schneeberger, it’s immediately absorbing and exciting.

The Cypher. Courtesy of Tribeca.

Ahead of the final, we follow Khalil to his boyfriend Marc’s (Juan Gil) apartment. There’s a brief, non-explicit, but nevertheless very hot sex scene, and some post-coital intimacy, with Khalil clearly cautious about letting Marc into his rap competition world. Gil and Cox as the romantic leads are both handsome and charismatic with great chemistry, and we quickly root for them. Cox imbues his character with a vulnerable strength that’s compelling to watch and he delivers an impassioned freestyle performance. Likely due to the condensed nature of the short film form, (the running time here is just 15 minutes) there’s a sense of contrivance in elements of the plotting, but that doesn’t take anything away from the film’s impact. The Cypher has real momentum and doesn’t let up.  It tackles homophobia with some nuance, as the film moves towards an unexpectedly moving and powerful conclusion. What results is not only a satisfying short, but also an excellent showcase for all involved.

By James Kleinmann

The Cypher was due to have its world premiere at Tribeca 2020 and made available to accredited press.

The Cypher. Courtesy of Tribeca.

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