GORE IN THE STORE
Director Corinna Faith’s THE POWER is set in 1974, a year when Britain was blighted by electrical blackouts. Trainee nurse Val (Rose Williams) arrives for her first day at the crumbling East London Royal Infirmary. With most of the patients and staff evacuated to another hospital, she’s forced to work the night shift in the dark, near empty building. The walls house a frightening secret that will force Val to confront her own traumatic past and discover the pain behind the wrath of a malevolent spirit.
In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Faith discussed using the physicality of the space to create a unique take visually and musically on the ghost story. She also spoke about finding her tribe, and the joy and the anxiety of the experience.
FRIGHTFEST: The horror audience is a knowledgeable one, so is it necessary to use that to your advantage by striking a balance between meeting and subverting their expectations?
Corinna Faith: It was the big challenge of writing in this space. In any horror setting, or in any of the sub-genres, you’re building into a body of work that everybody knows. So, I came up with tonnes of scary set-pieces, but it can be difficult to know what your own story is, and what are the layers of the millions of other stories that you've seen. In the process of the writing, it was important for me to just try to peal it back to the types of horror sequences that were right for our character, and our story.
I was extremely aware of what people would bring to it, and there are a couple of direct nods to the devoted audience as an acknowledgment of that. I wanted to try not to think about that too much because it can be overwhelming. You can't meet every demand and you can't fit everyone's tastes, so I was just trying to stick to what I find compelling in a scary film.
FF: Up until a certain point you remain guarded about Val’s personal experiences, teasing references to either a trauma or some incident that could undermine her reputation. Would you agree that ambiguity can be a way to create space for the audience to enter the film and to connect with the character?
CF: I totally agree, and when I'm making my next film, I'd have even more of it. There was a lot of wrangling about the back story through the script writing, the production, and the editing processes - of how much you needed to understand, and how much we should hold back. We found a good balance in the end, but it was important that we were able to set up things about her, but then piece some of that together for ourselves, because that’s potentially a more interesting experience.
Human beings are so good at reading other people, they can pick up so much that you need to trust in your audience to bring their own perceptions to a character, without the need to spell it out. There are other elements in this film that are more upfront and less subtle [laughs], and so it needed that balance.
FF: How do you take an understanding of tension and fear and use the camera to create that experience for the audience?
CF: My instinct about the entire approach to this film was to capture a bit of the real atmosphere of the space around the character – of what it was simply like to stand in that place was the most important thing to me. I knew I had to make the set pieces work and all that stuff, but I thought if anything, what would make it more personal and unique is just the effort to bring some of the real atmosphere through the screen.
We approached that in different ways, but a real location to work in was essential. It was also essential for budget because we couldn't afford a build that would have anything like the scale that mattered to me. I wanted a real building that would bring its own character, and myself and Laura Bellingham the DP, we wanted to use the space as much as possible.
It’s not very fashionable now, but that's why we shot it on wide screen because I was interested in the edges of the image - of what might be around her that she can't see, or we get the chance to think about, even though most of the time there's nothing there, but there's the feeling that there could be. We wanted to also have layers of dark so we could feel the scale of the place, and to be with her as she experiences being in this huge dark building. It’s harder to create that than it may seem. Some of those images are the ones we focused on getting for the pick-ups, because through the hurly-burly of the shoot, we couldn't film as much of it as we wanted to, and I think those are the memorable images.
FF: Some filmmakers like to keep the music subtle so that it doesn’t intrude, while others encourage its presence. The soundtrack of this film is noticeable, provoking a feeling of discomfort with some of the sounds that can only be compared to nails on a blackboard.
CF: The film score is not an intrusion for me; I love the combination of music and image. I knew that I didn't want wall-to-wall music throughout because I’ve never enjoyed that - it flattens the experience for me. I was lucky to get the composers that we did, and for them to collaborate because it was the first time, they’d worked with one another.
They’ve very different skill sets, as well as being massive horror fans with a huge wealth of knowledge of horror film scores. Elizabeth Bernholz and Max de Wardener are real artists, and they've wrote their own music beyond film scores, and so their approach was very musicianly. They came to the hospital and recorded the atmosphere in the big empty corridors, they found old wheelchairs, pill bottles and trolleys, and made noises from them that became the source material for the score. A lot of the more unusual sounds are either real atmosphere field recordings that they manipulated, or bits and bobs that they randomly found and built up into these richer textures. And Elizabeth used her own voice to create a lot of the more unnerving human voice sounds.
The process of working with them was just brilliant. They put a lot of time into it, and it probably took longer than we should be allowed for a film score, but Covid extended our window of time.
FF: The auteur theory states the director is author, but do you think it simplifies what is a complicated and collaborative process? Can one person be solely responsible for creating a film?
CF: I don't know theoretically; I can only speak to how things work in my brain and what my working practice is. The idea that you could tell people what to do and get a great result is bizarre to me [laughs]. I have a vision and I have been told by the people I worked with on the project that it was a very strong one, that was useful to them because it was specific. Everybody I chose I did so because they were massive enthusiasts, and totally got the nature of what I was trying to do.
I feel my job was to give them the space to be good at their job and they all brought loads of their own layers and perception. It was exciting to have lived with that on my own, and then suddenly have a whole bunch of people on it with me, and that was the joy. I guess the auteur element is a writer-director brings a vision of a particular world, but you can't build it on your own.
FF: Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be transformative aspect to the film making process, where you change as a person?
CF: It was an incredibly positive experience because I felt like I was with my tribe, and you don't get to feel that very much. It’s so particular that I can't even describe what that tribe is [laughs], especially the low budget indie version. After all the years I'd spent with my producers building up to this, I thought it would be like walking through hell fire as an experience, and it was as finger burning as you'd imagine on a practical level. In terms of feeling like part of a community and being devoted to telling a story, it was everything I could have hoped for, and so it was mind and life changing to know for sure that’s what I want to do.
THE POWER is streaming exclusively on Shudder.