Writer/director Corinna Faith has the touch. She’s got The Power. The Shudder horror film could skate by simply on the strength of its unique and gripping period setting—1974 London where miner’s union disputes led to electricity conservation efforts, namely blackouts—but doesn’t have to. Horror movies are always searching for new and creative ways to keep their subjects stuck, disoriented, away from the cellphones and bright lights that are so often antithetical to fear. Faith nails one. Nurse trainee Val’s (Rose Williams) first day (and night) on the job at a spooky, dilapidated hospital is a good enough premise to sustain a slight and schlocky fright night all its own. But Faith weaves an intimate and subversive script that makes The Power a far more enduring artifact than its fossil fuel foundations.
While there’s no use in giving too much away with plot specifics, what you should understand from the start is that Faith’s title is as interested in the absence of power (the dark, the working class, the women) than in its alternative. Whether it’s the incredible double act of veteran nurses Comfort (Gbemisola Ikumelo, solid and straightforward) and Terry (Nuala McGowan, hilarious and take-no-shit) or Val’s interest in the connection between illness and poverty, The Power is very clear that those at society’s bottom are all too aware of those walking atop them. A too-charming doctor; a late-night watchman with a headlamp and a keyring; administrators too happy to avoid unpleasant realities. Some truths can’t be hidden just because the lights shut off.
But before they do, Faith’s stage-setting goes down smooth—mostly because of Williams’ deft and earnest performance. We don’t want to get stuck in this creepy and definitely haunted hospital after dark, and Val assures us that she doesn’t either. The new nurse is the right mix of selfless sincerity and cagey nerves to sell both the first day jitters and tease out her personal baggage; Williams’ pacing and posture, alongside some deliciously relatable facial expressions, make the late-night fear all the more real once her plight solidifies. Williams doesn’t just do shrieks of terror or frozen gasps. Her brow furrows and a grimace collapses her mouth as she slowly turns around in a pitch-black ward hallway: She knows some spooky shit is behind her and she hates every second of that knowledge. We do too.
Faith directs these scares with a deliberate pace. The cascading blackness of the outage advances down a hallway like an unstoppable slasher and ajar closets pepper every room we find ourselves in. A particularly arresting shot of an object standing in front of a basement’s roaring furnace is maybe her scariest composition in the movie. And they’re all so elegantly simple. The Power, on its most basic level, plays on primal “scared of the dark” feelings that Faith translates from bedroom shadows to ‘70s London hospital corridors. The film’s jump scares can often lack the same oomph as the more environmental dread, and that environment hits such high highs that when the location’s not being used to its full potential, it can be a bit disappointing. That disappointment comes even once it’s clear that Faith is attempting to do something different with her ghost story that precludes exploring some avenues of fear that those versed in the genre have come to expect, mostly because she and her production design team have crafted such a simple and rich place in which to play.
A protracted finale, where dialogue starts hitting on the nose after the visual storytelling already said all it needed to, exacerbates this problem. Much of the writing is nicely realistic, even dipping into a mix of mumblecore brogues that are indecipherable without subtitles. Its themes are clear and its spin on tradition meshes well with teased-out visual clues. But the third act loses some of that courage, that trust in its audience. Spending so much time making the expertly implicit clumsily explicit only makes the uneven use of its setting and scares more apparent. When The Power is on, it’ll have you white-knuckling a flashlight all night. When it starts flickering, well, even its least nuanced moments or most telegraphed turns still have a level of craft that make certain Faith will be able to keep the lights on as a filmmaker for a long time to come.
Director: Corinna Faith
Writer: Corinna Faith
Starring: Rose Williams, Shakira Rahman, Charlie Carrick, Diveen Henry, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Nuala McGowan, Emma Rigby, Theo Barklem-Biggs
Release Date: April 8, 2021 (Shudder)
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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