Horror has always been used to address societal ills and Corinna Faith‘s THE POWER is no different. Taking notes from the gothic horror genre, viewers are taken through what appears to be a classic ghost story featuring a female protagonist. However, throughout the screenplay and various hints delivered through the film’s production design, it becomes clear that this film’s aim is to tackle something more. Highlighting how systemic abuse is covered up by those in power and how this is why the cycle continues, viewers are taken through a familiar journey that will feel like a much-needed reckoning. While a tad predictable, the film is a solid sophomore feature that highlights the promise of its director.
THE POWER takes place in London during what appears to be the blackout winter of 1974. A time period of power struggles between the miners and the government in the midst of oil struggles in the Middle East, the time period sets the stage for unspoken tension onscreen. On a day when there will be overnight blackouts across the city, we are introduced to Val (Rose Williams). A young trainee nurse still plagued by the trauma of her past, we see her arrive on her first day of work at the decaying East London Royal Infirmary. As she tries to acclimate to the demands of the new position, especially under the critical eye of the Matron (Diveen Henry), there are seeds planted in the setup of the night shift that will make both the viewer and Val wary of ever being witness to what happens at night.
Unfortunately, for Val, she learns rather quickly that if you step on toes, to the night shift you go! However, the darkness hides all sorts of demons. As day turns to night and Val is left to fend mostly by herself, (with a barebones staff that is none too comfortable to be left with the trainee), she will be forced to reckon with both her past and uncover the secrets that are waiting to be revealed in East London Royal Infirmary. And, for those that want to keep the secrets buried, well, you’ll have to see what happens…
THE POWER is reminiscent of gothic horror classics like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. The story itself will feel familiar to horror fans as we see another power try to reveal the truth using the body of a woman as its vessel. In this case, the film focuses on how power dynamics and structures within our society continue to perpetuate the cycle of abuse – sexual or otherwise. Especially for those labeled other. The system itself will do anything to keep itself from being held accountable and those who buckle under pressure are kept in place by various tactics. Faith’s screenplay lays down the groundwork through repetition and visual symbolism of the deeper meaning behind the film while using the familiar beats of the gothic horror genre. Where the screenplay loses its power is what some may consider heavy-handed repetition in its messaging and when the film falls too heavily on tropes is in its second half. And, as a climactic confrontation comes to a head, the weakness in the reveal is difficult to dismiss.
There is so much going for THE POWER, though. Rose Williams carries the film, delivering what is needed to convince the viewer to invest thoroughly in her journey. In a film that has light focused entirely on Williams’s face, it would be difficult to hide any faults in the performance. However, whether it’s acting opposite an invisible force or squaring off with different scene partners, no one can deny that this is another highlight in Rose Williams’s career. Another performance that should not go unnoticed is from newcomer Shakira Rahman as Saba. While her appearances are brief in comparison to Williams, there is much promise.
While quality performances help, the production design and cinematography of THE POWER do a fair amount of atmospheric lifting. Utilizing the historic Blythe House, the set is used to maximum potential. The emphasis on the hospital’s decay hints at the true soul of those who work within its corridors. I’d liken it to a building equivalent of Dorian Gray’s portrait. There’s the added touch of a young cartoon girl shushing on a wall the camera pans across as if to indicate that silence is the only power children have in the hospital. And, while the hospital itself is large, the usage of darkness throughout the film highlights the claustrophobic, haunting nature that both Val and the viewer should feel.
Overall, THE POWER is a solid film that will make itself home in the gothic horror genre. While the plot itself is weighed down by all-too-familiar tropes, it doesn’t take away from what Corinna Faith has constructed for us. Rose Williams delivers a great performance and due to a combination of production design, lighting design, and cinematography, there is much to love. I anticipate that there will be some who take issue with the MeToo elements featured in this film and the blatantness of how the film addresses those issues. I know I thought there could have been finessing in that realm. However, I’d argue to take a moment and just take it all in. Then re-watch the film. You won’t regret it.