In a set-up worthy of one of Kafka’s most vivid nightmares, Paul Raschid‘s latest film centres on a room which pushes its occupants to physical and mental extremes for mysterious reasons. In a dystopian near-future London, horror legend Shauna Macdonald (Nails, The Descent) is trapped in a twisted psychological game, but does she know more than she lets on to her captors?
We caught up with Paul to talk about what lurks in the White Chamber.
Tom: White Chamber seems to have been inspired by real-life controversial psychological experiments like the Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments. What sort of research went into the film and what else did you draw on to create the world of White Chamber?
Paul: Yes! Incidentally the two experiments you mentioned were big inspirations with regard to the psychological aspects of characters within the diegesis of White Chamber. The chamber itself is designed to push the limits of the human body in a variety of ways. Without wanting to include too many spoilers, this for instance involved specific research into the boundaries of air and water temperatures we can withstand as well as how high an electrical current the body can withstand.
Aesthetically, I’ve always been drawn to clinical, minimalist visuals so I thought it would be a poignant juxtaposition to have this pristine, ethereal white space in which horrible instances of torture occur. This also highlights the increasing normalisation of violence within the world of the film. The most obvious inspiration when looking into designing this was the cult classic Cube. The world itself which serves as the film’s narrative backdrop is a British dystopia I envisioned by amplifying all the post-Brexit socio-economic tensions to their worst case scenarios.
Tom: White Chamber is set in a near-future dystopia. What sort of storytelling opportunities does this kind of setting present?
Paul: I think the strongest opportunity I was afforded (quite literally!) within the dystopian world, is the ability to examine character psychologies in real depth. The film is above most else, a character study of people who are being forced to make emotional, moral and ethical decisions under the intense pressure that a dystopian war-torn society can exert.
Tom: To what extent did you draw on current events to shape White Chamber?
Paul: In sculpting the backstory of the United Kingdom we see in White Chamber, I sought not to deliver a diatribe or make a clear statement in support of any agenda. As mentioned before, I just wanted to present a ‘worst case scenario’, two opposing sides within that scenario and ask questions to the audience to create their own judgements and perceptions of characters who may not always be black or white; just as all things are subjective.
Tom: The film features some disturbing sequences with some impressive practical effects. Were there any sequences that stand out as being particularly difficult to film?
Paul: Thanks for the kind words about the practical effects. We had an extremely tight budget and only 12.5 days to shoot the film and it wouldn’t have been possible without our incredibly talented crew. In all honesty the scenes involving water were probably the most difficult to shoot. A lot of rigging was required over the actors in the chamber and naturally all the camera gear needed to be protected and then re-setting the actors was all quite time-consuming and required some strategising.
Tom: With its striking minimalist visual style and mix of genres, White Chamber is a distinctive film. What were your primary film influences?
Paul: I’ve already mentioned Cube as an aesthetic reference, but for the cold clinical look I drew from various sci-fi (mainly space-set) films. Narratively, one of my favourite films is Buried which is an even more contained film. It’s absolutely brilliantly made and gripping. Another film that looked at the psychology behind torture that I love is Unthinkable with Samuel L Jackson and Michael Sheen and I even watched the Fifteen Million Merits episode of Black Mirror for ideas on how to shoot a small cube-like space as well.
Tom: Shauna Macdonald gives an extraordinary performance in the movie, and it isn’t the first time we’ve seen her play a character pushed to her physical and emotional limits. As someone who has worked closely with her, could you describe what drives her towards playing characters in extreme circumstances?
Paul: Shauna is one of the most extraordinary actors I’ve ever worked with. What struck me most is the intensity of her preparation, attention to detail and just how much she puts in to every single take. As I’ve said, we only had 12.5 days to shoot and it was an exceptionally demanding role both physically and emotionally. It was a privilege to work with her and I think we had a great synergy because I thrive off highly concentrated energy on set at the best of times and so our our communication was always clear, honest and energising. In summary, she’s brilliant and deserves the plaudits she is getting for her performance in this film!
Tom: Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects that you are able to tell us about?
Paul: With the early positive response White Chamber is getting and festivals it is set to play at, I’m taking a moment to sit back and assess what the next move for my career needs to be to improve myself as a filmmaker and go even further than with White Chamber! I have spent the last few months writing new scripts and gathering feedback to help make me better. Hopefully there will be more news on any upcoming projects soon though!
We’d like to congratulate Paul on his success with White Chamber, thank him for talking to us and wish him the best of luck with his next feature! You can keep up to date with Paul’s latest work on Twitter. Check out the trailer for White Chamber below: