“Slow burn tale of 1970s blackouts in an East London hospital, that linger with you long after viewing”
Unlike many atmospheric horrors, The Power does not fall helpless to one tone scares and gimmicks. Instead, we are prescribed a potion of outstanding performances, apt pacing, and a lingering sense of dread, all melted together with a tremendously haunting setting.
The Power is written and directed by Corinna Faith and starring Rose Williams (Sandition). We follow Val (Willaims), a young and naive nurse on her first shift at a very strict hospital in 1970s East London. Her time on the ward is already burdened as the austere Matron (Diveen Henry) makes it clear that one mistake will end Val’s budding career, however, an authoritarian environment is her least concern as a nation-wide power cut brings out deadly secrets.
The Power uses the backdrop of the 1970s blackouts to convey an innately eerie setting, with the government announcing limited electrical consumption in a bid to ward off total prolonged periods of power cuts due to strikes, plunging the already tangled maze of a hospital into an indistinguishable labyrinth of terror. The long empty hallways have a literal dark spell cast over them, making it possible for anything to hide in the dark and allowing for the isolating corridors to become a void of darkness. Following this organically chilling setting is a barrage of long shots lingering over Val and harnessing a sense of foreboding doom which is kept tightly under wraps.
The Power certainly toys with our expectations as Val’s ‘too sweet to be true’ persona is utilised as a veil that harbours a hidden past of deceit. Is it a coincidence that Val is placed in a dark ward with an even shadowier past? Or is she destined to live out this horrid night?
It is aspects such as the unpredictability of events that Faith employs to nurse our inclinations about who to trust. For me when a film takes an unforeseen turn where our habitual instincts are twisted then the effect has a greater payoff. A mundane formula is thrown out the window when it comes to The Power, with us being kept in the dark just as much as Val and her colleagues. However, the depths that the film manages to reach would not have been possible without the stellar performance by Williams. Throughout the entire film, Val exhibits a complex range of emotive states, with her balancing melancholy innocence alongside eccentric hysteria.
A further inclination that The Power floats around regards the connotations of hierarchical power, not just electrical. Faith ambitiously nods to positions of power within 1970s Britain, with a keen depiction of the female nurses being subjected to cruel behaviour and demanding orders. One of the least subtle cues includes one of Val’s colleagues describing how the book she’s reading follows “a girl who has enough and brings the whole place down”, and of course she’s referencing Carrie. Val is often framed in positions of vulnerability; an abuse awareness poster illustarting a woman with her hands clamped across her mouth actually reflects upon Val’s face in a prominent example. Her doe-eyed stance frames her as a fragile lost girl, who even prior to starting the ‘dark shift’ has all of the lights in her small bedroom turned on. The dark exaggerates her loneliness and helplessness, pandering evil circumstances to her beckon.
With a slow burn stance unravelling throughout this film it is certainly not for everyone, but for those with an interest in disconcerting narratives and an attraction to stories that linger around you long after viewing, then The Power is certainly for you.
The Power is available to watch via Shudder right now!