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In Don McCullin’s 1970s photographs of grinding poverty in the East End, Whitechapel looks like it might have in Dickens’s lifetime. And it’s grim deprivation that student nurse Val (Rose Williams) walks into on her first day on the wards of an east London hospital in this feminist horror; her first patient is a little girl with rickets and stunted growth. Written and directed by Corinna Faith, this film is a real screw-tightener, ingeniously set during the miners’ strike in January 1974. What could be scarier than the lights going out in a Victorian hospital in the dead of night?
When Val arrives most of the patients are being transferred to another hospital for the night because of a scheduled power cut. Val is on the “dark shift” – staying to cover two wards kept going by a generator. She is too embarrassed to admit that she’s scared of the dark, triggered by childhood abuse in a care home. Pretty soon Val is clinging to the corridor walls, groping her way in the dark – and that’s even before things go bang in the night.
There are cracking lines in the script; unexpectedly, some of them very funny. In the staff room, an Irish nurse is reading Stephen King’s Carrie (not actually published until three months later, in April). “It’s about a girl who’s had enough and burns it all down,” jokes the nurse. And what follows is like Carry on Carrie – or maybe more Carry on Exorcist. Val becomes possessed by a demonic power. Or is she experiencing a psychotic episode? Either way, the bodies are piling up as a result of masculinity (in the hospital and elsewhere) that’s so toxic it’s literally contaminating everything.
After a bit of a damp start, the scares are merciless. Demonically possessed characters convulsing are ten a penny in horror movies, but Val’s limbs twist like she’s a doll being yanked by a spiteful toddler. It’s unbearable to see in places, especially since Val has already suffered so much. Now some kind of malevolent force is taking over her body, another violation. Empowerment for female victims comes late in the day too, making this a raw and painful watch.
Source: The Guardian
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