A young nurse is given a terrifying assignment in Corinna Faith’s bleak but all too timely supernatural horror.
Thanks in part to the success of Hereditary, “haunted by trauma” has become its own thriving genre of horror. Just in the past few years we’ve seen The Haunting of Hill House, Sharp Objects, It Follows, Sweden’s Koko-Di, Koko-Da, and His House, all of which involve characters struggling with the ghosts of past events, often to tragic results. Even the 2018 reboot of Halloween depicted Laurie Strode as broken by her experience as a Final Girl, to the point where she’s as potentially dangerous as Michael Myers, who made her that way in the first place. They’re all very well made, compelling movies and TV shows, but they’re not very fun, not in the way that a mostly dumb but enjoyable slasher movie is. Neither is Corinna Faith’s The Power, but it’s also a stark indictment of the kind of patriarchal culture that works largely to silence the voices of abuse survivors.
Set in 1974 London, it’s the first day on the job for nurse-in-training Val (Rose Williams), on her own in the world after growing up in an orphanage. Though the hospital is a grand old dame of a building on the outside, it’s rapidly decaying on the inside. Even the pediatric ward is a dreary sight, with a mural of children glumly looking out of a prison-like window or shushing someone that seems more menacing than whimsical. To make things worse, due to an ongoing battle between miners’ unions and the government the entire city is experiencing planned blackouts in the evenings, forcing much of the hospital’s patients to be temporarily moved elsewhere. Cutting the power to a hospital seems wildly impractical and dangerous, and yet, it actually happened. That this hospital’s few remaining employees are locked in for the night and not permitted to leave, presumably even if an emergency arises, seems like some dramatic license may have been taken, but considering the long and rich history of how low-level workers (particularly women) are treated by their employers, that might have some basis in truth too.
Even before the power goes out, it’s clear that something is deeply wrong with this place. Though you’d think they’d appreciate the help, the other nurses treat Val like an interloper, while the head nurse stares daggers at her for having the audacity to speak to a doctor without being spoken to first. Even an old childhood friend who works there treats her with smug hostility. For a hospital, it’s a remarkably cold, unwelcoming place, and it’s no wonder that the small handful of patients we see do little else but stare warily without speaking.
It’s…a stark indictment of the kind of patriarchal culture that works largely to silence the voices of abuse survivors.
Despite it being her first day, Val is left largely on her own to work the hospital night shift in almost full darkness, doing menial labor and tending to the patients who have been left behind. She senses another presence, however, separate from the other nurses who giggle and gossip behind her back, or a leering security guard. Recognizing something familiar in Val, it wants her attention, it wants everyone’s attention, and does so by attacking her and eventually entering her body. It has something it wants to say, and an unwitting Val is the perfect vessel.
If the events of the past few years haven’t been enough to send you into a white hot rage, then The Power should do the job. That not a single other person is interested in even listening to Val, let alone helping her, is both maddening, and implausible, and yet how often do we shut down abuse survivors? Even without a vested interest in protecting someone, we minimize, discount and talk over claims of abuse and sexual assault. The times when the movie takes a turn into possession horror are almost a relief, because the near-constant derision and dismissiveness Val encounters from her co-workers (let alone her superiors) is even more suffocating and unsettling than the invisible hands that grope and fling her around. Perhaps the eeriest scene is after Val is attacked, and two other nurses subtly intimidate her into admitting that she imagined it. There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for them to do this, other than perhaps they just don’t want to get involved in whatever nonsense they think she’s up to, but it’s a harsh call-out not just to toxic patriarchy, but the women who willingly uphold it.
Rose Williams is heartbreaking as Val, who starts her first day of work with a hopeful smile, and ends it broken and hollow. That her own personal trauma is used to avenge someone else’s trauma is a fascinating, potentially controversial twist, but also gives more dimension to what otherwise could have been a standard “angry ghost” movie. But, again, The Power is not a “popcorn and snuggling under a blanket” kind of horror movie. It’s relentlessly bleak and disturbing, where every character, with the exception of Val and a young female patient, is either a predator, or an enabler of predatory behavior. But it’s important, as part of the ongoing conversation about whether or not we’re doing enough to really listen to survivors, or enough to protect them.
The Power premieres on Shudder April 8th.