Director: Corinna Faith
Screenplay: Corinna Faith
Starring: Rose Williams, Emma Rigby, Charlie Carrick, Shakira Rahman
Duration: 92 min
BBFC Certification: 15
It is undeniable that with The Power, writer/director Corinna Faith has come up with an absolute belter of a setting for a ghost story. Set in 1973, where miners strikes have ensured that huge swaths of Britain are without power or electricity during the night, the film follows Val (Rose Williams), a young nurse who is forced to work the night shift at an old East London Hospital. Already afraid of the dark, Val encounters a seemingly malevolent entity as she wanders the hospital corridors alone, an entity that seems to want to use her tragic past for its own, mysterious purposes…
Faith and cinematographer Laura Bellingham waste no time in exploiting this brilliant setting for all it is worth. Shooting in a restrained, elegant style that recalls classic movies from the era, complete with a subdued, washed out colour palette, they allow the star of The Power, during its opening sections at least, to be the hospital itself. A crumbling mixture of faded Victorian grandeur and municipal dreariness, it provides a creepily unsettling atmosphere all of its own before the plot kicks into gear and Faith unleashes all manner of traditional shocks and scares.
Like all good ghost stories, Faith ensures that events build up gradually. Allowing the fantastic location to amplify the unease that comes with mysterious, unexplained sounds or half-glimpsed figures, The Power works best when it allows Val to simply walk alone down the hospital’s secluded, silent corridors, holding a trembling light out in front of her, terrified of what might be lurking out there in the dark.
The discovery of a creepy object about a third of the way through, however, means that the plot switches gear, bringing in a change of tone and pace that is not as creepily effective as what has gone before. While the remainder of the film is constructed with skill and Faith continues to provide a few moments that will make you jump or shiver, everything feels rather tired and uninspired. Horror fans will likely have seen all of this stuff dozens of times before and frequently done better, with The Power lacking the sense of malevolent unease that made films such as The Conjuring or Hereditary such deeply unsettling experiences. Suddenly, you find that the inspired hospital setting is hosting an uninspired ghost story.
The classic ghost writer M.R. James once said that the best ghost stories should always be set in the not too distant past. Taking place almost fifty years ago, The Power’s Seventies setting actually turns out to be more significant than simply providing a creepy aesthetic backdrop to bounce horror cliches around in. Since the revelations about Jimmy Savile came to light, along with the dozens of other shocking tales of abuse that took place during the decade, Seventies Britain has developed an uncomfortably seedy and sordid reputation that turns out to be the ideal setting for The Power’s deeper concerns. This is a ghost story with a more serious message than most, where human beings prove to be just as terrifying as their supernatural counterparts.
Faith and her cast have to be applauded for their sensitive handling of such emotive material. The Power refreshingly shows that childhood assault and trauma doesn’t have to define and ruin a life. Vitally, the film suggests that the power that abusers have over their victims can be reversed and that redemption can follow.
Yet as vital and noble as this message is, its implantation in The Power feels rather heavy handed. The latter third of the film abandons logic in order to ensure that its message is carried home, where the tone of the ending jars and you are left in doubt whether some characters are really going to achieve the ending Faith seems to have promised them. Quite simply, the film finds too many simplistic answers to difficult questions.
Taking equal inspiration from The Devil’s Backbone and the films of James Wan, while The Power never quite manages to match the classics of the genre, it remains a tense, unsettling watch that, like similar socially conscious horror films such as Get Out or Our House, forces its audience to face both a human and supernatural darkness.
It is up to them to decide which is the more terrifying.
The Power is exclusively released on Shudder from 8th April 2021