Corinna Faith’s The Power is a chilling ghost story, set in 1970s Britain. Times are difficult and every night the country is plunged into darkness in order to conserve energy amid miners’ strikes. Val (Rose Williams) is already afraid of the dark, we witness her turning on every light in her small living quarters following a nightmare. Val interviews at the local hospital the next day and is brutally questioned by the rather scary matron (Diveen Henry) but is eventually hired despite her timidness.
Val is then made to work the night shift, which doesn’t sit well with her fear of the dark. She’s plagued by visions or perhaps memories while roaming the hallways of the derelict, crumbling hospital. It’s obvious something more supernatural and sinister is going on and it might cost Val and her fellow nurses their lives.
Faith’s directorial debut is thick with atmosphere and the film’s production design, by Francesca Massariol, is impeccable, really bringing an authentic 70s feel to the film. Lauren Bellingham’s cinematography is inventive and intense with a nightmarish quality to it. Bellingham and Faith use plenty of close-ups of Williams’ terrified face to create terror and an effective sense of doom while also using lighting and the lack of it to terrorise both Val and the audience. The Power has an almost oppressive quality to it, in the best way possible. It’s creepy and scary, almost to the extent that you can’t breathe at times.
Yet, the film never reaches its full potential. It takes a little too long to get to its emotional core and while it wraps up the mystery nice and neatly, it doesn’t feel quite as satisfactory as it should. Despite effective imagery, most of the scares are generic, with loud sound effects to get the viewer to jump, but they don’t have the desired effect of truly scaring you out of your wits.
The Power constantly switches between a haunted house film and a possession horror. It does both well, but it lacks a sense of identity. While it is completely by coincidence, The Power will inevitably draw comparisons with Saint Maud, another horror debut by a female filmmaker, but The Power feels much more common and a sum of its influences rather than its own unique take on the genre and the story.
Williams turns in a fine performance as Val. Her role is often reduced to just looking terrified while wandering around the wonderfully ghoulish hospital. She also has a sweet relationship with a young patient Saba (Shakira Rahman), but the film is at its best when it digs deep into gender and the power structures that come with that, especially in 1970s Britain. The title isn’t only a reference to the constant power cuts, but to how women were treated and abused and forced to stay silent, in any way possible.
While The Power is flawed, it is also intense and often terrifying. It’s an appropriate throwback to the British horror films of the past while also updating the genre with a timely message and themes. Williams is a standout but so is Faith, who shows considerable talent and a keen eye for shot composition and creating a ominous, menacing mood.
The Power streams on Shudder April 8.