By Steph Cannon
Are you afraid of the dark? We'd be hard-pressed to find a more ancient, deep-rooted fear than that of darkness. The unsettling feeling of dread that washes over us as we peer into the unknown vast blackness is enough to invoke the fight or flight instinct that lies deep within. THE POWER delves into this ingrained terror while putting us smack in the middle of one of the most horrifically perfect settings imaginable.
Set in London in the 1970s, THE POWER gives a brief expositional account of the miner's strike that upended most of Britain's power supply and lead to the country subjecting it's citizens to planned blackouts that would last the entire night.
Young nurse Val (played by Rose Williams) is headed to her first day on the job at an East London hospital, and immediately we get a sense of the duality of her character. She's both meek and determined as she makes her way through the cold winter to the decaying infirmary, and it's a testament to how expertly Williams gets into the role of our protagonist.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Val quickly is put in her place by nearly every person working there, from nurses all the way up to doctors, who either dismiss her entirely or treat her like an object by getting handsy. Val grew up in an orphanage in the same dingy neighborhood where her new job is, and it's obvious her co-workers have their own preconceived notions regarding this. Despite this, she's inherently altruistic when it comes to her job, quickly befriending 12-year-old patient Saba (Shakira Rahman), with whom she shares a clear common bond. The pair are both misunderstood and shunned, a fact that will set as the emotional anchor for the film.
She's informed that due to the blackouts, most of the patients will be temporarily relocated to another facility, with the exception of those in the intensive care unit, who will remain overnight with the aid of a generator. Naturally, poor anxious Val is ordered to take the night shift along with a skeleton crew to oversee these patients and is given the breakdown on how to navigate the maze-like building. This is where writer/director Corinna Faith begins to pull on that age-old fear of the dark, which lies especially heavy with Val. There are long, foreboding shots of empty hallways as she makes her way to her designated post that immediately lends to the sense that there's something malevolent lurking in this establishment. Val's initial unease promptly morphs into outright fright, thanks to a series of occurrences that include the ever-present scent of something burning, and creepy whispers in dark corners that only she seems to hear.
Once in the ICU, Val discovers she will be accompanied by acquaintance Babs (played in perfect mean girl style by Emma Rigby). The chill factor escalates from here, as Val finds herself subjected to wander the pitch-black hallways and basement by order of Babs, while the dark forces that were once lingering in the background begin to make a more forceful, and physical, appearance. As they do, and the peril to both Val and everyone else in the hospital becomes more apparent, the film unfolds an underlying mythology that links Val in ways that make her both a victim and a threat. This is an impressive feat, aided by both Faith's ability to weave an emotional story in a spooky setting, and Williams' talent to simultaneously scare us and make us feel empathy towards what's happening to her.
Val's overall character arc is also remarkable, particularly with the fact that the film runs only around 90 minutes. Within that time, she goes from timid and frightened, to undeniably creepy, and finally to fierce and imposing. Within all of this tightly woven plot is just a good old-fashioned scary ghost story. One moment you'll feel just like you do while navigating a haunted attraction - just waiting for that next jump scare while the elements keep you on edge. The next moment, you'll be pondering the more psychological narrative of what's truly going on with the sinister force at hand.
THE POWER is now streaming exclusively on the Shudder Network.