Shudder’s The Power Review- A Devastating Message Masquerading As A Ghost Story
Sometimes silence can be deafening. In Shudder’s The Power, out April 8th, it’s about finding your voice to speak for others when they can no longer be heard.
As far as good old-fashioned ghost stories go, The Power is excellent. It is heavy on ethereal breathing, whispered exhales, and ghoulish moaning. Everything is cast in a sickly yellow light, and there are personal demons and literal ghosts in every darkened corner. In terms of social commentary, it is better still. Feminist horror and revenge horror are wildly popular because they offer catharsis. Films like Lucky and Netflix’s His House both use the societal ills to propel the horror in the story forwatrd. Corinna Faith’s The Power does this brilliantly. It offers absolution to those that deserve it and a reckoning for those who don’t.
This is what oppression as horror looks like. The Power is a film about being silenced. Having your voice stifled by history, rigid rule structures, and scared followers. It is set in 1974 London during a tumultuous time. There are planned evening blackouts that force hospitals to consolidate and evacuate most of their staff and patients on a nightly basis. Val(Rose Williams) is a young nurse whose first day reads like a terrible human resources video on 70’s era misogyny. Everyone from the men who leer at her to her pinched-face boss demand her obedience. In all things, regardless of the consequences. There is plenty to be afraid of in the byzantine hospital long before it is evacuated and the halls blackened.
Val is told she should keep her mouth shut and follows the rules without question. She inadvertently breaks this rule and is punished with the night shift in the mostly deserted, dark hospital. Speaking has consequences. Through snide comments from childhood friend Babs later in the film, this is a lesson she evidently should have learned long ago.
Nearly forty minutes in, the actual ghosts of the hospital begin haunting Val. First in playful but terrifying grabs and pushes and later in what looked and felt like a sexual assault despite not showing anything. Faith’s careful direction never sensationalizes the assaults. Instead it highlights the emotional toll of the event itself and the deception that happens after.
Faith captures the essence of evil. Sometimes it is creepy kids who appear everywhere, just out of reach, taunting you. More times than not, they are the lecherous monsters who think they are entitled to look and say whatever they like because decades of experience have taught them they can. That is Faith’s most significant message. It’s scary out there as a woman. In this fetid hospital, where the rot seeps clear through the building’s boards and pipes, you can’t escape by staying silent, no matter the cost. The Power is about precisely that. Who has power, and how do they get it? Sometimes there is nothing scarier than the truth.
Likely you will see the big reveal coming, but that’s okay in a film that is clearly intent on messaging. It isn’t so much about jump scares and arresting visuals, although it has plenty of both, but revealing the kind of systemic abuse, a place like this hospital fosters. No one will change it because everyone is desperate to cling to their tiny piece of power. Yes, the film is about the electric power shut off in the hospital each night, but it’s mainly about who has the power and what they do to keep it.
Sound design is spectacular, showing you what to look at when. Between the sundry spectral wails, there are synthesized plinks and bubbles that build crescendos, creating and holding tension throughout. There is a particular trick involving coughing something black and oozy that is so disturbingly noisy it’s hard not to gag yourself. The Power smartly employs subtle techniques to create a mood so intimate you internalize Val’s plight.
Williams is a delicate presence on screen that begs for protection. From the vultures she works with and from the past, which haunts her. Williams vacillates between being a fragile victim scared for her life and a demon hell-bent on revenge. She manages both brilliantly. Like Val’s nesting doll necklace, there are layers at work here, and Williams carries the film on her slim shoulders.
This is a truly awful place that needed a reckoning. The Power delivers a sucker punch of grief and persecution. When the final act comes, you are ready for whatever will be dished out. Like Val, you are angry and exhausted. Bone tired from the night’s ordeal and being forced to bury years of trauma and pain. Women endure. It’s what we do. We endure lingering looks, unwanted touches, and sometimes even hate from other women. Lies and secrets work together to ensure nothing good can grow. Val’s hospital is a terrible place where bad things happen to innocent people unchecked. The system is even worse for pitting us against ourselves instead of against those who take advantage. Maybe we all need a ghost or two to set things right. Don’t believe the lie; silence is never golden.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.