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lost for wards
The Power (15)
Review: RJ Bland
The dark. It's something that a lot of us have some deep rooted fear of, to some degree at least. Whilst most adults aren't nyctophobic, many of us still feel a dim pang of fear when we brave a walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night or when there's a power cut. From an evolutionary perspective, a fear of the dark was an advantage. Dark meant potential danger and resulted in increased precautions to stay safe and for thousands of years it has served humans well to be frightened by it. Nowadays things are quite different. When we are asleep in our bed at night, the risk of attack from a person or a sabre-tooth tiger is minimal(!). But there's still a trace of that inherited fear still there somewhere in our psyche, the only difference is that now it is more about our fear of the unknown rather than any specific threat. The dark has been an obvious and consistent element within the horror genre since its inception, however there have been a few key modern films that have played upon this age-old fear. Neil Marshall's The Descent (2005) may have utilised the claustrophobic setting but the lack of daylight for most of the film cranked things up to another level. In David Sandberg's Light's Out (2016), the entity is only able to exist within darkness itself, making even the corners of dimly lit rooms a potential threat. Corinna Faith's debut feature, The Power, just released on Shudder, is the most recent film that attempts to get in on the poorly lit action...
Although it's probably not widely known outside of Britain, back in the winter of 1973/1974 the stand off between striking miners and the government meant that coal reserves were running out and as a result, electricity was rationed. It wasn't only homes that were plunged into darkness every night, but even essential services like hospitals had to take a hit too. It's against this period of unrest that we meet Val, a fresh-faced newbie nurse who is starting her first day at an East London hospital. Her enthusiasm is soon tempered however; the matron is unwelcoming and cold – she tells Val that she's basically on probation. She's told not to talk to the doctors but after the matron catches her in conversation with one, she is assigned the 'dark shift' as punishment. This involves staying overnight when most of the lights have been turned off and only a skeleton staff remains on site. However, navigating the labyrinthine halls in the pitch black armed only with a lantern is no fun at all, especially as Val appears to have something of an aversion to the dark. And when the hospital generator fails, plunging more of the corridors and wards into complete darkness, it starts to become clear that maybe there is a good reason to be wary after all...
Setting a horror film during the blackouts in mid 1970's Britain seems like such an obviously brilliant concept that you'd think it had been done before a few times, but it hasn't. Setting a story during this time gives a genre film a couple of boosters; firstly, there's limited ability to just 'turn a light on' and secondly, there are no mobile phones. More importantly perhaps for The Power, the social-political environment of the time allows it to illuminate its feminist ideals with ease.
The Power is something of a film of two halves. The first is a restrained gothic ghost story that lays the atmosphere on in thick strokes. The hospital is a dark foreboding place and all of the characters besides Val are world weary, unfriendly or inappropriate. When the lights are turned out, the tension rises and although there aren't any jump out of your skin moments, Faith sprinkles in enough unnerving incidents to keep us on the edge of our seats. It's the best half of the film, without a doubt and the shrill Shining-esque score only adds to the palpable sense of dread.
At the midpoint the film makes a turn into a slightly different sub-genre. This division is signposted with possibly the most frightening sequence of all, as a character writhes around in the throes of what appears to be some sort of possession. We've seen this kind of thing before for sure but there's something especially affecting about this sequence here. Unfortunately, once we get to the 'uncovering the mystery' portion of the film, things start to feel a little less affecting and a bit more routine. The more we learn, the more it loses its power, even if the final revelations are anything but inconsequential.
Anchoring the film is a really impressive performance from Rose Williams whose character arc is probably about as extreme as you're going to get. Her transformation is violent and unsubtle and even if Faith's script only hints at her backstory, she carries enough intrigue for us to wonder if there is something beneath her meek exterior. As it turns out, there is and although the film is possibly a little too literal at the climax, the message it delivers is loud and clear. Socio-political commentary can sometimes weigh a film down too heavily but here the balance is just about right.
The Power is a psychological/supernatural horror hybrid that excels in an ominous first hour. It may dim a little beyond this point but its exploration of institutional abuse is as timely as ever.
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