Six years after she first conceived of the idea, Corinna Faith’s “The Power” is gearing up for release. Cleverly set in 1974, during a time when miners’ union disputes led to blackouts enforced by the U.K. government, the British writer-director’s debut feature is a smart and scary horror that marks her as a filmmaker to watch.
“As a first feature, the horror genre is so openly creative,” Faith tells Variety. “Visually, there is so much you can do with that medium to introduce yourself and your style.”
“The Power,” which is now available on streaming service Shudder, focuses on young trainee nurse Val (Rose Williams), who is forced to work the night shift on her first day at the East London Royal Infirmary on one such powerless night. But it soon becomes clear that there’s much more to worry about than the lights going off, with Val soon having to deal with both malevolent forces and her own traumatic past of abuse.
Indeed, one of many notable things about “The Power” is how it marries its ghost elements with an assault survivor story. The central theme of power — specifically, who has it and how they wield it — are just as relevant now as they were then.
“When [British TV presenter] Jimmy Savile and all the other abuse scandals were breaking, I just found it really, really sad and really upsetting,” Faith says. “And this story came into my head as a response to that. Those silenced voices of people lost in the system felt like a ghost story in its own right, so those things kind of collided.”
Those heavy themes do not come at the expense of scares, some of which are inherent in the creepy, claustrophobic setting of the hospital and some which come from well-utilized ghost horror tropes. It also helps that Faith’s approach to jump scares is satisfying in its judiciousness.
“They’ve all got a slightly different technical way of working, and hopefully they’re mostly earned within the story as well. My main decision with that was not to cheat or have any trick ones,” says Faith.
At the centre of “The Power” is a fantastic lead performance by Williams. Val starts off optimistic and doe-eyed before gradually unravelling as the night goes on, and Williams is never less than compelling as her young nurse’s first hospital shift goes from bad to worse. The standout sequence in which she’s possessed is one of the more impressive feats of physical acting you’ll see all year.
“We choreographed it and she learnt it like a dance so she could perform it broken down bit by bit,” Faith says. “We did half a day where we just filmed sections of it like that, but I think she was feeling a bit restricted by that way of doing it. We were allowed to have two cameras the next day, and she just went through it twice. That is a lot of the stuff that went in, in the end, because that’s where she was able to just get into a totally different zone with the whole thing, which is why it’s so impactful.”
It’s all soundtracked to an unsettling score by EDM artist Gazelle Twin (aka Elizabeth Bernholz) and Max de Wardener. Full of synths and eery vocals, it’s the perfect complement to “The Power’s” dark world.
“We wanted to try and create something that got under the skin rather than simply illustrated the historical setting,” Faith says. “So there’s a kind of synth feel, but we wanted to do something that was more emotionally disturbing. And Elizabeth has an incredible voice as well, so we were so lucky to have that asset in our toolbox”.
In addition to the synths and vocals, Bernholz and Wardener also went the extra mile by using sounds from the hospital to augment the score.
“They just really went to town on the level of detail,” Faith says. “They came to the set of the hospital in East London where we filmed it. There’s huge empty spaces and all sorts of bits and bobs lying around, and they found things like old trolleys and old pill bottles and recorded them — and then they used that as the foundation. Quite a lot of the sounds literally emerged from the building, which I love.”
Faith is repped by Casarotto Ramsay & Associates.
The Power is now available to watch on Shudder.