My answer has always been that I don’t cover Horror films. (Haha! Take that, haters!) But I do have an interest in reviewing and featuring films that dabble in the realms of Fantasy; and some Horror films – like ghost stories, mystical worlds between our own and another, and the afterlife – certainly fit the working definition of Fantasy even if only superficially. Now, you may disagree and that’s perfectly fine … yet it won’t stop me from taking a look from time-to-time at features like The Power (2021), a kinda/sorta modern day chiller (and more) from writer-director Corinna Faith.
In short, I found the film to be a bit of a creative misfire, not so much an error as it is a miscalculation of messages. Some of this may be owed to the fact that I’m a man and I took issue with her chosen depiction of males; but if you bear with me then I’m happy to go into a bit more analysis on why ‘too much’ – especially in Horror – might diffuse both your good ideas and your bad to the point where your audience is left with nothing but murkiness … much like this film.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“London, 1974. As Britain prepares for electrical blackouts to sweep across the country, trainee nurse Val arrives for her first day at the crumbling East London Royal Infirmary. With most of the patients and staff evacuated to another hospital, Val must work the night shift in the empty building. Within these walls lies a deadly secret, forcing Val to face her own traumatic past in order to confront the malevolent power that’s intent on destroying everything around her.”
It's difficult to make all that much of The Power mostly because there’s so little there: at just over ninety minutes, I think about 2/3rds of it felt like scenes of lead star Rose Williams simply walking around in the dark, poorly-lit hospital. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all in favor of creating the proper atmosphere required to tell a vengeful ghost story, but storytellers still should be required to have a tale to tell. What there is sprinkled liberally between the opening and closing credits is threadbare (I’m being generous), and I’m a viewer who needs a bit more substance shone on all the principal players instead of one who suckles from a steady stream of politics.
As one who has read more than a bit of material on the paranormal and the occult, I can tell you that, yes, ghosts are traditionally depicted as vengeful spirits who have failed to ‘pass over’ for any number of reasons. The most basic? Well, that would be some evil presence or committed deed has tied the poor, unfortunate soul to our plane of existence; only when this event is resolved can the departed finally find eternal peace … and this is the playground at which Faith has opted to make her stand. As can happen, there’s a bit of demonic possession involved – how else can the ghost convince the living to do her bidding – but I’ll avoid going through the particulars of how modern psychology has debunked that phenomenon as it would take all the fun out of an already grim ninety minutes.
The driving force, however, to any ghost story worth its spooks is the past: something went wrong, and a merciless spirit remains hellbent on putting it right.
Where Faith’s script fails is she relies centrally on infusing this tale set in the past (1974) about the past (the rape of a young patient named Gail) with contemporary social justice messaging. Faith’s position – as best as I can tell readers – is that “all men are bad.” (In case you missed it, The Power is being “heralded” by critics as a feminist picture, not that there’s anything wrong with it.) Pairing today’s message to the world of the supernatural (in my opinion) just doesn’t work.
Revenge is one thing. It’s a powerful motivator, especially for ghosts. But outright hatred – as in the film’s attitude toward men – goes narratively too far.
Audiences come to ghost stories for the chills. For the most part, it’s pure escapism: they’re willing to suspend a disbelief of ghosts, spirits, phantoms, or demons (if they don’t believe in them, that is) because it’s all meant in good fun (bloody or not). The thrills on the screen are meant as entertainment: while the yarns might contain some passing message or metaphor (i.e. be good to children; never trust a man in a hockey mask; don’t spend the night in a graveyard; etc.), these lessons are generally easy to swallow in exchange for the elevated heart rate they endure as part of the exchange.
But when you’re using these frights to condemn an entire race – namely males – I think you’ve crossed into Wackyland.
Setting aside the obvious political messaging at work constantly within the film, the viewer is left with too little material to make for a welcome diversion. It’s ninety minutes of walking in the dark with only a handful of scares, and even those start to make less sense the more one thinks about them. (Was this meant to be an allegory for life? I’m uncertain.) While I’d agree with anyone that actress Rose Williams (as Val) does a solid job handling the highs and lows of script, it’s almost like the performance ends up wasted in this empty space. (Is that how women feel? I’m not a woman, so I don’t know. Do they all feel like they’re lost in a void? Is that feminism’s contention?) Williams commands an incredible range here and even seems to master some small nuances required to fully ‘sell’ demonic possession to the non-believers. I just wish she had been paired with a better script.
A quick rundown of Faith’s career on IMDB.com gives me the impression that she’s recently turned her sights from documentary work to fiction. (There are a few script mentions, but this does appear to be her first full-length outing.) If that’s the case, then I suspect that she still has a bright future. The Power felt like it wanted to take too big a bite with too few teeth, and much of my complaint with it would obviously be tempered had I shared her unique worldview. Outside of Williams’ work, there’s no subtlety here – to a person with a hammer, all problems look like a nail – so perhaps some distillation from more projects might help this writer/director find a better way to communicate ‘inclusively’ instead of so ‘exclusively.’
Otherwise, we’re all just stumbling in the dark. Pun intended.
The Power (2021) is produced by Air Street Films and the British Film Institute. Distribution (for this particular release) is being handled by the reliable RLJE Films and Shudder. As for the technical specifications? This one feels like an upgraded independent feature; as such, there’s clearly a fair amount of resources put to work here, though so very much of the film takes place in the dark and is occasionally hard to see that I couldn’t comment any further than that. If you’re looking for special features? Meh. There’s a photo gallery and a commentary track from the director, her star, and (I believe) her cinematographer that fills with some nice memories but very little substance. Honestly, I couldn’t finish it as the various anecdotes just weren’t all that interesting to me. But give it a try if you like those things.
(Mildly) Recommended but for serious ghost story purists only as far too much of The Power lacks any real energy. Aside from a good central performance from Williams, there just isn’t much too the film. In Hollywood circles, when you don’t have enough story, then you push the agenda … and that’s all the film offers: it’s an obvious anti-men hate screed where only the women try to make the world a better place. How do I know this? Well, every single male in cinematic sight is only interested in self-gratification or covering up the unlawful self-gratifying efforts of their fellow males. Swapping misogyny for misandry might be good when the awards season comes ‘round, but it’s good for little else.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJE Films provided me with a screener DVD copy of The Power (2021) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.