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The Power movie review & film summary (2021)

This prefatory text suggests a class-based understanding of what happens to Val (Rose Williams), a meek trainee nurse who’s studying “the connection between poverty and health” (her words) when she’s visited and possessed by a ghost at the East London Infirmary.

Val’s topic of study is worthy, as is the filmmakers’ focus on the many little ways that Val is pressured (both socially and professionally) to keep quiet about, uh, everything that happens at the hospital. Unfortunately, the Infirmary’s chain of command is often more interesting than the secrets that Val must keep under her nurse’s cap. And while systemic abuse is often overwhelming because of its universality, the inciting details of Val’s problems are too impersonal to be disturbing.

So it’s not surprising that Val, being a meek but well-meaning do-gooder type, takes a moment to discover what’s really going on at the East London Infirmary. First she accidentally embarrasses her supervisor, the school-marmish Matron (Diveen Henry), who warns Val that she must follow the Matron’s instructions on how to wear her work uniform (skirt three inches below the knees) and when to talk to the staff doctors (pretty much never, since “they communicate above your level”).

Val doesn’t break these rules willingly: she’s asked impertinent questions (ie: for her professional opinion) by the young and unusually warm Dr. Franklyn (Charlie Carrick). Franklyn’s status presents a credible damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t dilemma, the kind that often arises when you get contradictory instructions from two different bosses. So the hospital’s Matron punishes Val by assigning her to the night shift on her first day. That decision inevitably leads Val to discover something that may or may not be haunting the Infirmary.

I say “inevitably” because “The Power” is a possession flick, complete with spastic heaving, disbelieving co-workers, and a frightened pre-teen who tries and fails to warn everybody about the dangers that (mostly) come at night. Most of the items on this formulaic checklist are used well enough, but none of them are surprising or so well-realized that they’re still compelling.

In fact, the weakest parts of “The Power” are the ones where a dark, melancholy ambience is meant to carry the movie, especially when an invisible presence takes control of Val’s body and shakes her like a ragdoll. The most memorable of these scenes is the one where an unseen hand lifts Val’s skirt over her knees, which are presented from behind; a chorus of ghostly, Penderecki-esque moaning can be heard on the soundtrack, but it doesn’t add much to the sequence. I don’t know if that’s the image you want your genre movie to be remembered for, but it does stand out, if only for its sheer brake-tapping gentility.

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