From writer/director Corinna Faith comes The Power, a mid-1970s-set creep-fest about nurse trainee Val (Rose Williams) who arrives at a dilapidated East London hospital on her first day in the midst of a city union dispute, during which most buildings in London have to turn off their power for hours at a time. As a result, most of the patients at the Royal Infirmary are shipped off to another hospital, leaving behind just a few patients who can’t be moved and a skeleton crew of nurses and maintenance workers to cover things in the mostly pitch-black facility. I’m guessing you can see the spooky potential already.
The Power is almost more about its subtext and backstories than it is what’s going on in the moment. Val grew up in a girls orphanage where she accused a male supervisor of inappropriate touching, and while it’s certain that she suffered some sort of trauma as a result, it’s unclear whether it is the result of what the supervisor did to her or the uproar aimed at her after she reported his misdeeds, which apparently ruined his life. When a fellow nurse (Emma Rigby) at the hospital (who also happened to be at the same girls home) refers to the maligned supervisor as “that poor man,” you get the best sense of what Val was up against as a young, abused girl.
Val makes it clear from the beginning that she has trouble with the dark, so when the stern hospital matron (Diveen Henry) assigns her the night shift on her first night, the odds of Val making through unscathed seem slim. Thanks to a combination of a creepy maintenance man who sees himself as a real charmer and some sort of unseen entity that attacks Val in the dark, she not only is forced to relive her own trauma but she has to do so within the pitch black walls of this creaky building. And when she reports her attack to the other nurses, they are hesitant to believe her because of her history with questionable abuse reports. The one doctor on staff who seems to believe her (Charlie Carrick) is immediately suspect because he seems to be the only nice person in the entire hospital.
As The Power continues, it becomes painfully clear that not only is there a vengeful force in the walls of the infirmary, but that it wants to use Val’s vulnerability and past to get inside her head and take over for a spell, spilling blood and causing havoc all through the night. Williams is impossibly good as Val, who transitions from timid and obedient to powerful and violent in the blink of an eye. In some ways, the performance reminded me of Morfydd Clark in Saint Maud, a film more deeply rooted in religious fever than personal trauma, though strangely the two don’t look that different on the outside.
Director Faith also has a tremendous visual style, which is especially impressive considering how much of the movie is shot in the dark. But her use of shadows as a means of building tension is perfectly realized and utterly terrifying. Even the down moments, featuring the hospital staff chatting and gossiping, felt genuine and necessary to give us the briefest of respite from the scares. The exact nature of the dark force that haunts the hospital is a bit elusive, but the more solid undercurrents concerning a time and place where harassment claims from women were essentially ignored seem all too believable and sadly, quite relevant.
The film is now streaming on Shudder.
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