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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: The Power (2021)

The Power has a set-up that signals its massive potential in being a classic horror in the making. It has tough themes and topics set against an interesting backdrop, a fascinating protagonist, and a writer/director that clearly understands how to use tropes and clichés of the genre effectively. However, The Power finds itself slipping on its own potential at points, but thankfully it manages to recover, eventually propping itself and standing on its own two feet.

Set in London during the winter of 1974, a fresh-faced young nurse Val (Rose Williams) starts working at a hospital during a time of economic crisis. The trade unions and government are at war, with nightly blackouts being ordered to conserve power. Deathly afraid of the dark but not brave enough to speak up, Val is forced to work during the night shift where things are about to get a whole lot worse for her.

Fear of the unknown lurking in the endless pitch-black darkness is the basis of almost every single horror film. Even if the film isn’t directly about fearing the dark itself, scares and the potential for scares are often always centered around its ability to conjure up the very worst-case scenarios that the characters and audience can imagine. Writer/director Corinna Faith understands the ability it possesses, smartly using it as a basis for the scarier themes and topics found within The Power: sexual harassment and the abuse of power.

The trauma, as well as the constant plausibility of sexual harassment and abuse, are littered throughout the early stages of the film ranging from subtle to not so subtle. Thankfully, it never feels heavy-handed in drawing attention to the visual metaphors of this in The Power. One shot, in particular, is so brilliantly constructed and executed through shot composition, art department, and performance, making use of a simple window reflection as a powerful tool in bringing a particular theme to our attention, regardless of how obvious it may be. It’s a particularly interesting and important time period with which to set the film as well. The actual mentions of the economic turmoil and the war between the unions and the government are very rarely spoken about in the film, but we see and feel the importance of this war in Val’s workplace. An air of toxic patriarchy permeates throughout the hospital, with Val constantly having to decide what kind of person she needs to be in order to survive and thrive in this environment, all while a literal darkness continues to tug and pull on her rational and irrational fears. It’s seriously smart writing that shows how effective relevant themes can be regardless of time period and setting.

For the most part, Corinna Faith makes use of the literal and metaphorical terror that comes with the rolling blackouts that occur during the film. I am a sucker for atmosphere and the dread of the build-up as opposed to jump scares constantly dictating the experience. With a film that uses the fear of the dark as a primary basis for inevitable scares, Corinna Faith uses the powerful tool of suggestion instead in reigniting our fear of the dark, turning it into a predatorial beast biding its time in snaring its prey. There is barely any jump scares in the first hour of the film as she pushes both us and Val deeper into the dark unknown, after all, not knowing what lurks in the shadows is far more frightening. It pushes the film to unbearable moments of tension with the echoes of patients and their heavy breaths filling the air, almost as if the darkness is a living entity moving at will. It's an effective allegory for Val's past and present, as she is constantly trying to navigate her way through the darkness, armed with a mere lantern and the odd candle in an attempt to cut through the dark and show her a path to safety. It’s all smart filmmaking that perfectly blends its important and difficult themes with terrifying metaphors through visuals, music and sound design.

Then at some point during the second act, the spell begins to wear off for me. Major plot and character revelations need to occur, but it feels as though the film begins dumbing itself down, effectively cheapening part of the experience in order for us to start progressing towards the finale. The atmospheric build-up that challenges both the character and audience’s perception of what the darkness means, begins to feel as though the film is abandoning its themes and ideas it built up so expertly to become your standard “boogie-man-in-the-dark” movie, losing its intelligence along the way.

However, the film still looks and sounds great throughout. The roving camerawork is reminiscent of the iconic steadicam work on The Shining, moving and flowing with the same level of uncertainty, not knowing what is around each corner. The hospital in The Power could easily be The Overlook Hotel, with its dizzying maze-like structure further aggravating Val’s intense fear of the dark. Gazelle Twin’s score is terrifying, sounding like a reimagining of The Shining’s instantly recognizable score that is somehow more demonic and unsettling.

Rose Williams as Val is a character doing her best to survive in her surroundings, from making her voice and presence heard in the toxic work environment she finds herself in, as well as trying to survive the literal and metaphorical force of the darkness around her. It’s a performance of emotional and physical fragility, eventually merging the two to truly terrifying results that sit snuggly next to the otherworldly evil that The Exorcist brought out in Linda Blair as the possessed Regan McNeil. It’s an astonishing example of a physical performance driven by deeper internal conflict handled with a furious intensity.

Admittedly, the problems I found with The Power’s slight change in approach towards the end of the second act, are entirely down to my subjective taste in the kind of horror films I gravitate towards. And like I said, the films doesn’t get bad by any means, thanks to the strength of the first act and a half on its own. It just begins to abandon the recipe that made the film so intriguing and unsettling in its build-up, effectively disrespecting a fine as hell horror film up until this point. But thankfully Corinna Faith manages to recover, finally able to tie the film’s underlying themes and topics together in a neat little bow. It makes up for the detour, effectively winning me back with a satisfying conclusion. The Power may not be the classic it could’ve been, but it’s still pretty damn good, suggesting that Corinna Faith has a masterpiece waiting up her sleeve in the not-so-distant future.

Where you can watch it: Shudder (USA, UK, Australia)

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