Joivan Wade holds his own in his second major feature lead, The First Purge.

I watched The Purge (2013), didn’t watch The Purge Anarchy (2014); think I distractedly watched The Purge Election Year (2016). I only raised an eyebrow for the 4th installment of the thriller/horror series The First Purge when I heard that British Blacktor Joivan Wade had landed a starring role.

Not that I didn’t enjoy The Purge I, the concept of people having one night to physically purge out all their angst, anger, and evil thoughts once a year, with no legal repercussions is a great one.  But repeating the concept over and over again, I presumed would be a bad idea. How many different ways can we be shown the negative fall out of legalising crime?

But they decided to bring another installment, and perhaps wisely this time around, The First Purge is the prequel to the Purge franchise. It tells the story of how it all came to be.

The premise – To push the crime rate below one percent for the rest of the year, the New Founding Fathers of America test a sociological theory that vents aggression for one night in one isolated community. But when the violence of oppressors meets the rage of the others, the contagion will explode from the trial-city borders and spread across the nation.

We have Joivan Wade (The Weekend (2016);  Youngers (2013 – 14)) as Isaiah younger brother to Nya (Lex Scott Davis, Superfly, 2018) who is pissed off at the world and his situation, living in a project block on Staten Island; he and his sister struggling to make ends meet. Isaiah needs an outlet.

Enter Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei) and her radical social experiment. Updale believes that if people are allowed the freedom to vent their innermost aggressions for a set amount of time, the general crime rate will be reduced for the rest of the year. The government aka the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), decide to give Updale’s experiment the greenlight and announce that for 12 hours on the 4th July (American Independence Day) inhabitants of Staten Island will be allowed to commit any crime they like, including murder with no repercussion. Thus we have the pilot run, of The First Purge.

Focusing on one of New York’s most impoverished boroughs, the NFFA want to monitor how the people of Staten Island react to this new version of ‘freedom’, specifically the poorer residents who they entice to participate with irresistible offers. Those who don’t want to Purge have the option to leave town, to the safety of neighbouring boroughs and states. Or stick it out and hope for the best. The thinking is, that if people react they way the NFFA hope, then the Purge will be rolled out across the Nation.

Joivan Wade and Lex Scott Davis – The First Purge

Other players in the mix, include local drug dealer/kingpin Dmitri (Y’lan Noel, Insecure, 2016 -). As with others who disapprove of the NFFA’s scheme, is suspicious of what The First Purge means for the community he ‘runs’. Let’s not, for now, dwell on the negative impact his own drug dealing actions have on his precious community. But here we are. Dmitri’s moral spidey senses have been triggered.

Equally not impressed with the NFFA is Nya, who is at the forefront of the local protests. Also concerned with the potential effect the Purge will have on the locals, Nya makes moves to ensure she and her brother Isiah are safe as the dreaded event draws ever closer.

What’s great about The First Purge is that it’s every bit as jumpy, scary and horrific as it should be. As someone who was sceptical and sure they’d not ‘get me’, they did. Series, creator James DeMonaco who wrote and directed all the previous Purge installments wrote this one, with African American director of the pretty good hazing film Burning Sands, Gerard McMurray jumping in the director’s chair for The First Purge. 

It is interesting that the director is African American McMurray because most definitely, The First Purge is one for the culture. Because I’m a spoiler phobe, there’s not much I will say, because the reveals are great. What impressed me is that this is more than an unnecessarily violent film. There’s a point to it all. A political/social theme runs strong throughout and there are some real pump your fist in the air scenes when those you want to win… succeed.

There are a few melodramatic scenes, some truly unbelievable. Typical of a film like this. But dramatics are needed because what fuels the fear, is that we’re currently living in a political era none of us could have foreseen or would have believed pre-Trump/Brexit/shit-show. So whilst annual legalising of crime seems far-fetched, this film further embeds the seeds of possibility.

Noel’s turn as Dmitri, well. Those of you who are #TeamDaniel in Insecure will definitely be #TeamDmitri – thoroughly impressed, pressed and thirsty when you see him in his element once the Purge, starts… purging. There’s mumbling that Marvel needs to reboot the Blade franchise. Though Wesley Snipes said in a tweet last year “When anyone asks “Who could be the next Blade?” 💥👋🏿 you already know there’s only one Blade fam! #Blade” . Sure, up until this moment I would have agreed. But I think we have a strong candidate in Noel. He is Blade for the millennials. Sorry Un,cle Wesley. Make it happen Marvel.

For Wade this is a brilliant launchpad for his already successful career. Coming from being one-third of the brilliant Mandem on the Wall nee Wall of Comedy outfit, then going on to branch out solo in Doctor Who and EastEnders. Aside from his reunion with his comedy brothers Dee Kaate and Percelle Ascott, in their first feature The Weekend, as Isaiah, Wade holds his own. Believably a Staten Islander and though you want to knock him in his forehead for some of the decisions he makes, Wade’s wide-eyed innocence shines through enough for you to empathise with his character. So, yep America has claimed another one of ours. (Wake up UK for the love of Hollywood. Sheesh).

The First Purge is a lot of fun. Great characters, thought-provoking premise. More than just a violent romp. It’ll entertain you whilst triggering your socio-political emotions. Gather your pals, even the bougie ones who think films like this are beneath them. They will be pleasantly surprised.

I’m going to watch the rest of the franchise.