The Power

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Power
"As a director, Faith excels at building up atmosphere."

When did you last hear characters in a horror film talking about trade unions? It's strange that it's rare, when you think about it, because there's usually safety in numbers. One person might be weak alone but when they form the right alliances, they can have power. This idea goes to the heart of Corinna Faith's film, but the alliances don't necessarily develop where you might expect them to.

Young Val (Rose Williams) is quickly disabused of the notion of nursing as a sisterhood when she starts her first day at a busy hospital. The Matron (Diveen Henry) is strict to the point of scaring her a little, whilst staff on her own level are constantly vying with one another. One of them, shameless social climber Babs (Emma Rigby), knows a little about her past in the local orphanage, and soon people are muttering about her reputation and the supposedly awful thing she did to an innocent man. Viewers will quickly guess what sort of thing this might allude to, but Faith's script ably captures the prejudices and expectations of the time (not wholly dispensed with today), using these moments to illuminate the complexity of her characters. Val is a sweet young woman carrying a heavy load of guilt and perhaps more besides, but everybody here has more to them than first meets the eye, and even Babs is weighed down with her share of sorrows.

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The bulk of the action takes place at night. It's 1973, and the miners' strike has resulted in scheduled blackouts. Most of the patients are evacuated from the hospital accordingly, leaving a core of comatose individuals, mostly elderly, and babies in incubators. As these patients still need to be looked after - mostly by way of regular pulse, temperature and blood pressure checks - some nursing staff remain to work the 'dark shift'; and Val, being new, feels unable to refuse this despite having a fear of the dark. It's a fear which, in her past, might have been justified, and indeed this echoes the fear that many women felt at the time whilst men navigated the streets by candlelight without comprehending what the fuss was about. This is not an environment in which Val is safe rom the threat of male predation. As the night wears on, however, she develops a growing suspicion that there's another threat at work in the building and that she and her colleagues will be lucky to survive till dawn.

Faith's script is ambitious, especially in light of her limited experience. Parts of it are incoherent in a necessary way, because of the subject matter she's dealing with, but it's unlikely that this will put viewers off because, as a director, she excels at building up atmosphere. The very precise sense of place and time helps to keep one in the moment, suspending disbelief; yet though it is historically rooted it's a setting with which few are likely to be familiar, so there are layers and layers of narrative to explore before we even get to the main story. Like the best genre work, it's underscored by horrors which are very much part of the real world. In places it's slower - more drawn out - than it needs to be, but Faith also handles the mystery aspects well and marries plot and theme in ways that exploit yet defy horror convention.

With impressive performances from a cast more used to small screen work, The Power is intimate yet wide-reaching, embedded in real world pain. It's a film full of human darkness, treading a labyrinthine path in search of light.

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2021
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In 1973, a young nurse is forced to work the night shift in a crumbling hospital as striking miners switch off the power across Britain. Inside the walls lurks a terrifying presence that threatens to consume her and everyone around her.

Director: Corinna Faith

Writer: Corinna Faith

Starring: Rose Williams, Shakira Rahman, Emma Rigby, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Charlie Carrick, Diveen Henry

Year: 2021

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: UK

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