Something sinister lurks in the dark halls of the Royal Infirmary in 1973, East London. A trainee nurse knows it, but who will believe her? This is the tension plucking at raw nerves in the UK horror-thriller The Power.
Rose Williams stars as Val, who is bright-eyed and eager to start her first day in this towering monument of public care. However, she soon finds her dream job is full of bitter realities. Her enthusiasm earns only scorn from a stern matron and jaded nurses. When a handsome young doctor praises Val’s work, payback comes in sniping remarks and an unenviable night shift during a scheduled blackout.
Val has never liked the dark. Making matters worse, she’s still perplexed by the hospital’s layout. Then, there’s the scent of burning and the hiss of whispers that creep from the shadows. It’s enough to drive a sane woman mad. Thus, when she warns others of what horrors lurk in the darkness, Val’s written off simply as hysterical. Not only must she fight back the fiend that she thinks has sights set on a withdrawn young patient, but also she must battle against the authorities that refuse to listen to her.
Written and directed by Corinna Faith, The Power pulls devices from haunted houses and possession movies to create a terrifically tense tale about trauma. She cloaks her setting in shadows that hum with threat. This exudes a major mood of Gothic horror, long home to stories of alleged hysterical women. The hospital walls are painted in sickly cool hues that look so festering that you can practically smell their moldy musk. The glow of gaslight turns them yellow, but no warmer. The vents ooze with grime, reminiscent of the realms of Guillermo del Toro. Creeping dolly shots give the sense that something—confident and callous—stalks the halls of this hospital. Finally, shrewdly selected visual effects give a stomach-churning wallop to the terror.
A ghostly little girl and the brutal blow of an unseen force make for solid jump scares. More haunting are the bits that tip into psychological horror. Chaotic montages of fire and violence spark might suggest that Val’s mind is out of sorts. Then come the vicious fits. Williams’ throws herself full-bodied into these body-rattling scares. Her trembling lip on a doll-like face transforms into a mask of menace with screams and scowls. Her limbs bend back behind her in horrid compositions that chill even the most skeptical peer.
Her costuming shifts, revealing a woman undone. Val’s button-up uniform, with prim apron and jaunty cap are sullied then swapped for a flowing night gown, the same sickly hue cast by the gaslight. Her hair no longer pinned to perfection, but tumbling down past her flaring nostrils. Then flows the blood and the bile, playing precursor to a ghastly revelation.
Faith thoughtfully uses the familiar bones of a ghost story to create a frightening fable as timely in ‘73 as it is today. Her screenplay sets up a hierarchy that leaves her heroine firmly at the bottom, where she expected to be seen but never heard. The dialogue pulls plentifully from cliched dismissals of women, which might feel a bit heavy-handed. However, in this oppressive setting, it’s well-suited. Val can’t ever forget her place, when everyone around her is practically giddy to remind her.
Williams proves a stalwart lead, masterfully pivoting from the doe-eyed ingenue to frothing terror. The supporting cast (Emma Rigby, Charlie Carrick, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Diveen Henry, Shakira Rahman, and Clara Read) are splendid, bringing verve and bite to stock characters, sharply written. Faith gave them sketches that make sense for this setting: 24 hours, a newbie’s first impressions, plus trauma and terror bleeding in. The cast ran with it, like a terrified girl down a long hallway. Thus a ruthlessly efficient screenplay is realized with vision and viciousness.
All of this make The Power a terrific tour through trauma and terror, electrified with style and substance.
The Power premieres exclusively on Shudder on April 8.
Header Image Source: Shudder