Darkness effects everyone differently...
...Some people shut down from stress. Some hide inside themselves. Others become braver, emboldened by the anonymity and secrecy of the blackness. In The Power, writer-director Corinna Faith tells a recognizable tale of finding yourself lost in the dark, and how some use the shadows for sinister deeds.
The Power takes place in 1974 Britain, in a time when trade unions and the British government declared war on each other, and the average citizens were made to suffer. The three-day week is implemented in an effort to conserve energy, which means mandatory blackouts consecutive nights a week—an inconvenience for most businesses and an even bigger problem for someone afraid of the dark. From the moment Val (Rose Williams) wakes up she immediately turns on several lights, basking in the glow of natural and artificial luminescence. Her white surroundings radiate light, and her starchy nurse’s cap adds an almost halo effect to her already pure presence. Before she even speaks, Faith makes it very clear Val’s goodness will be tested.
Formerly an orphan, the eager Val starts her first day at a dilapidated hospital under the demanding eye of the Matron (Diveen Henry). The new nurse shows adept skills when it comes to children and her pleasant demeanor catches the eye of the pediatrician, Dr. Franklin (Charlie Carrick). The Matron disproves of Val’s behavior with the doctor, however, and punishes her by assigning her the overnight hours, known ominously as The Dark Shift. Unbeknownst to the Matron (and the rest of the staff), a trauma from Val’s childhood has left her terribly afraid of the dark.
Locked in a hospital filled with dark passages and creaking doors, Val meets the ornery night nurse, Babs (Emma Rigby), an old school chum who learned everything there is to know about nursing, except for the caring part. While they catch up and reminisce, it becomes clear that something happened back in their school days that has planted mistrust between them. Val seems determined to put that time behind her, but Babs insists. When Val turns the tables, Babs uses her position as the senior nurse to send Val on a trip into the darkness— one much longer and stranger than either of them expects. No other nurses have had uncomfortable experiences in the dark, but there is definitely something there, and it’s drawn to Val. Both Val and the audience spend the rest of the movie figuring out why, with plenty of scares along the way.
[SUGGESTED READING: Amylou Ahava reviews HERE BEFORE out of SXSW]
The story of The Power will seem very familiar for anyone with even tertiary knowledge of the spooky subgenre. A caregiver (usually British, but sometimes American working abroad) starts a new job in an old building only to find out something horrible happened in the past. Answers about the mysterious tragedy slowly come to light, our unease increasing all the time. Movies and shows like The Others (2001), Bly Manor, and even The Boy (2016), all feature a female lead in a haunted British location. However, The Power holds something other British caregiver horror lacks: the bone-breaking physicality of Rose Williams. The actress makes the external and internal attacks on her character so much more believable. The adversary remains unseen for most of the film, yet Williams’ masterful ability to show terror through her features keeps viewers on edge. Along with her tormented facial expression, the impossible way she bends her torso and limbs when her body is invaded by the invisible force gives a painful depiction of trauma.
Along with the emotional and visual display from Williams, composers Elizabeth Bernholz (aka Gazelle Twin) and Max de Wardener create atmospherics from a blend of sounds somewhere between human and animal. Val’s grunts and scuffles merge with the music, creating echoes of pain that intensify so that we are never sure which emanates from her and which from the minds of the composers, effectively blurring the lines between soundscape and acting.
Darkness and ghosts make for a scary situation, but the real terror comes from loss of control. Val struggles with asserting control over her career, her reputation, and even her body. People assume Val’s intentions and use these false beliefs to manipulate other people’s perceptions of her. The young nurse tries to stay focused on her tasks, but eventually even her mind and body do not obey her. Rose Williams does an amazing job of conveying the physical toll of fear, but there are also subtle visuals that play much better in a darkened room, so make sure you watch with the lights off. The Power takes a familiar story and lets its brightest strengths shine through the shadows.
The Power comes to Shudder on April 8th.
By Amylou Ahava
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