Producers: Rob Watson, Matthew James Wilkinson Director: Corinna Faith Screenplay: Corinna Faith Cast: Rose Williams, Charlie Carrick, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Theo Barklem-Biggs, Nuala McGowan, Emma Rigby, Diveen Henry, Paul Antony-Barber, Shakira Rahman and Clara Read Distributor: Shudder
A surfeit of atmosphere can’t disguise the thinness of plot in Corinna Faith’s horror film, set in an East London hospital in 1974, when the Thatcher government’s war with coal miners led to electricity shortages and periodic blackouts. It can, however, make “The Power” a pretty creepy, if rather slight, affair, with a feminist slant that seems more applicable to the present than the period setting and an ending that’s just supernatural wish-fulfillment.
The heroine is Val (Rose Williams), a nervous young nurse with roots in the impoverished urban neighborhood. She’s a newcomer at the hospital, and receives a frosty greeting from the stern matron (Diveen Henry) along with an assignment to work the night shift. Some of her colleagues and a doctor named Franklyn (Charlie Carrick), however, are more welcoming.
Val takes an immediate interest in Saba (Shakira Rahman), a young girl who’s one of the few patients not evacuated to other hospitals before the night’s blackout is scheduled to occur. Saba has tried to escape the place several times, but can’t articulate why she’s so frightened since her English is limited. The rest of the remaining nursing staff is none too considerate of the girl, whom they regard as a troublemaker; they’re also quick to express prejudices toward their patients.
The cause of Saba’s fear is inevitably revealed as the night goes on. It’s one of several elements reflected, along with the power outages, in the title—a force that emerges to possess and use others, in this case Val, for its purposes. It proves to be the manifestation of Gail (Clara Read) a young girl who disappeared from the hospital’s children’s ward some time ago and is presumed to have run off.
What actually happened to Gail is related to another aspect of the place alluded to in the title—the power structure within the hospital, represented by the male doctors and administrators. It descends upon Val with a vengeance late in the film, when she becomes the focus of the nasty occurrences that have befallen the institution during the night, including a couple of deaths. The emphasis the authority figures place on an event from Val’s past reveals why Gail might have selected her as a vessel through whom to operate.
Williams anchors the film with a hyper-charged performance, and the rest of the cast—especially Rahman—is solid. But what impact “The Power” possesses comes primarily from the ambience it creates, for which the technical crew is largely responsible. Francesca Massariol’s production design is gloomily effective, and cinematographer Laura Bellingham utilizes it well, giving special attention to the lighting; Holly Smart’s period costumes add to the atmosphere. So do the melancholy strains of the score by Gazelle Twin and Max De Wardener, as well as the moody sound design by Joakim Sundström. Faith and her editors Rebecca Lloyd and Tommy Boulding emphasize stateliness over energy, though they try, with marginal success, to add a few jolts when called for.
“The Power” aims to add some gravity to its spookiness with a critique of classism and sexism, but in the end it’s just a ghost story with pretensions to contemporary relevance.