Val (Rose Williams) wakes up in the London of 1973, in her cramped flat, after having a nightmare. But that was the world of sleep, this is real, and here the miners have been on strike resulting in power cuts across Britain, which means she has to wash in ice cold water. Today she starts her new job, after her training has effectively ended, as a nurse in one of the capital's hospitals that has seen better days, but she is excited to make a difference in society since she had suffered a grim upbringing that she would not wish on any child. However, on arrival, she finds things will be more difficult than she anticipated, for the staff can be dismissive of this new girl...
Patronising even, and she has been recommended to keep her mouth shut. But the place has a secret. The Power, not to be confused with other films of the same name, was a supernatural drama that took a subject that many filmmakers would shy away from, lest they turn off the audience who did not want to hear about it in a genre movie that they would have ordinarily turned to for entertainment. Yet writer and director Corinna Faith was careful to draw the viewer in before laying her cards on the table, and that was to the picture's advantage, for the first half, at least, played out like you typical haunted house yarn as seen through the twenty-first century lens.
While for the second half a more real life concern was made apparent, though quite why the setting was the nineteen-seventies was not so clear when the matters it focused on were very much current. Maybe it was down to that decade being regarded from the perspective of 2021 as some kind of sexist, prejudiced, abusive hellscape - there were quite a few examples of that point of view in the following century's media, no matter how much social progress had been made in that ten-year period, and conveniently ignoring how much was still to be done decades later. But don't go thinking The Power was clueless, it assuredly was not.
And you could perceive that it was an alert to its contemporary audience that by adopting this apparently heightened sense of injustice in the past, we should not dismiss any alarm bells sounded in the present. With that in mind, you may fear you were going to be lectured to, yet for quite a bit of this it was a strongly sustained tension that kept it afloat and did not sell out its horror movie roots: you could still enjoy it on that level. Contributing to that was a performance that travelled from meek social engagement to righteous anger from Williams, and those portraying an unfriendly bunch around her. It seems the doctors have no time for the opinions of a trainee nurse like Val, though one of them, Franklin (Charlie Carrick) is more open than most.
Meanwhile the nurses have a jaded air, they have seen it all and are unimpressed, with Babs (Emma Rigby) an old schoolfriend who was not too pally and knows Val's secret shame from those days. Also, Comfort (Gbemisola Ikumelo) and Terry (Nuala McGowan) you feel should really be more accommodating to this newcomer. Indeed, the only real connection she makes is with young girl Saba (Shakira Rahman) who can barely speak English. This isolation is only exacerbated when on her first day Val is placed on the night shift as the power cuts leave most of the patients apart from the most dire evacuated, and that supernatural presence makes itself felt. Overall, it was difficult to tackle horror with a message without being heavy-handed: this made hysteria an asset, oddly cathartic when it came to getting out all that frustration and humiliation of not being believed when you are the victim of abuse, be that bullying or something even worse. And it also made Middle of the Road's seventies pop hit Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep into the equivalent of a creepy chiller nursery rhyme. Music by Elizabeth Bernholz and Max de Wardener.
[THE POWER is exclusively released on SHUDDER on 8 April 2021.]