From its opening scene, The Power resonates with quiet fury. We meet our protagonist, a newly hired pediatric nurse called Val (Rose Williams), as flickers of a dormant trauma emerge. We see her as a young girl (Marley Chesham) trapped in a closet by a threatening older man. When the final image of this flashback dissipates, director Corinna Faith establishes its intrusiveness through discomfort on Val’s face and oppressive photography. Though the film’s aspect ratio creates ample space around her, the frame nearly severs Val entirely from view. She attempts to gather herself to leave her house, but remains shaken. Here, Faith makes two things clear: the impact of abuse is frequently obfuscated and its horror can disrupt sans warning.
As its backdrop, The Power uses the conflict between the Conservative British government and the National Union of Mineworkers, which caused mass blackouts in the early 70s. This context lends thematic and atmospheric heft to the dilapidated hospital setting in which Val seeks to begin a career. Often to her detriment, Val earnestly tries to navigate the tense workplace hegemony. News reports of a routine outage immediately reignite her traumatic fear of the dark. Yet, the matron (Diveen Henry) is cruelly unsympathetic and practically forces the “green” nurse to work at night. Faith, again, takes full advantage of the wide frame to communicate Val’s dread. In conversation with the matron, they trade off lines in unnervingly symmetrical close up shots. An overhead shot of Val walking through other staff members solidifies her loneliness. In the hospital cafe, she is startled by a kitchen worker who shuts the lights off behind her. This flourishing doom slowly takes the form of a vengeful spirit who stalks corridors submerged in darkness. With it, follows pointed commentary on rape culture and institutionalisation.
Blending fantasy and real-world terror, Faith exposes uncomfortable truths about losing bodily autonomy in the hands of powerful people indifferent to suffering. Val’s traumatic experience overtakes multiple aspects of her life aside from the triggers we see. Images such as a poster whose text reads “Don’t be silenced! Tell someone and stop sexual abuse” and an ominous painting of a girl covering her mouth allude to conflicting external pressures put on survivors. However, the choice of either being silent or vocal are both presented as harmful. Sometimes without speaking a word, Val is treated poorly by the staff. In a brief sequence, she is shamelessly harassed by a man in an elevator. One other man is present but is oblivious at best. Another woman, a nurse, notices but ignores her.
When Val does try to defend herself, her bullies respond viciously. One of them, Babs (Emma Rigby), shares a history with Val from their time in an orphanage where her assault took place. Babs uses seniority status at the hospital to berate and spread damaging rumors about her, further alienating Val from any possibility of finding community. The only person in the entire building Val develops a friendship with is Saba (Shakira Rahman), a young patient whose inability to speak english prevents her from self-advocacy. In Saba, we see the failure of the British healthcare system to properly treat patients with cultural and language barriers. She is continuously subjected to racism and her frustrations are abruptly shut down by staff. For a role this limiting, Rahman is more than capable of shifting the emotional gravity of the film to her centre. Especially once the spirit’s wrath corners Saba and Val, leaving them to brace a dire situation together.
The Power is evocative of familiar horror stories which explore supernatural phenomena through the lens of vulnerable people. Stephen King’s Carrie is a major reference that appears in novel form, through religious themes, and a specific instance where Val is violently forced into reliving her trauma in a closet. As well, the film shares tonal and aesthetic strands with enduring works of J-horror such as Dark Water and Ju-On. Both of which favor a slow-burn approach to their stories about characters tormented by past abuse. On its own, the film thrives on visual motifs to maintain its nesting doll-like structure. Though Faith’s stylistic experimentation firmly tests the limit of her concept, she boldly manages to switch gears and even takes the possession subgenre to task.
What one takes away from this film depends entirely on how much patience they’re willing to invest in Val as the central character. Williams’ performance is understated, yet intuitive. Subtle inflections in tone and body language add to Val’s hyperawareness. She must adapt to any given situation in order to fit in. The second I realised Faith was the real deal is when I noticed these details in her script and direction. There truly are too many to rattle off without proper examination, but suffice to say The Power is an effective allegory. It is a film like this that reminds me why so many of us take refuge in horror. The director’s sense of fear is primordial. She has the creative command to lure you inside her world, anxiously tracking figures in a void. But in her care you’re allowed to fight back. Faith is an artistic voice who understands the need for catharsis in stories like Val’s and this film delivers tenfold. I am excited, as I am terrified, to see what the director does next.
The Power is available to stream exclusively on Shudder now
by RC Jara
RC (she/they) mostly enjoys genre films but can write up anything with a patience for research and an active imagination. You can read more of their stuff on their blog here, hire them for coverage by reaching out here, and shoot the breeze with them on Twitter. Watch that social for developments on upcoming projects or if you’re open to having your head talked off!