Scream Horror Magazine

Paul Raschid & Shauna Macdonald talk Monsters in White Chamber

Posted on: April 1st, 2019

Further to its success on the international festival circuit, White Chamber – Paul Raschid’s (Unhallowed Ground, Servant’s Quarters) chilling dystopian portrait of the UK – has now been unleashed on US audiences.

Set in the not-too-distant-future in the UK, civil war rages, and martial law has been declared by a military government hell-bent on squashing the opposition. A woman (Macdonald) wakes up in a blindingly white cuboid cell, where General Zakarian (Oded Fehr) uses increasingly sophisticated and cruel methods to torture her for information – information she claims not to have. As questions of trust are placed both on captor and captive, they find themselves embroiled in an increasingly spiralling journey into the nature of authority.

To celebrate the film’s US release in cinemas and on VOD, SCREAM caught up with the director, Raschid and star, Macdonald, to discuss this tense, shocking, and all-too relevant film which poses the question: Can there even be such a thing as certainty in these most uncertain of times?

SCREAM: This is a very timely film, especially what with Brexit right now. I also know that Paul was initially inspired by the London Riots in 2011 following the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan. Why were you particularly inspired by that event and I’m interested to hear how the film was received at various festivals as it has screened in countries with very different regimes and political systems around the world?

Paul Raschid: I think my inspiration was just an amalgamation of things that were examples of what I grew up through. The London Riots was one of those few examples where we descended into anarchy as a society and all it took was one little push for all hell to break loose. It was like we were living through The Purge or something. It gave me a glimpse as to what a dystopian London would be like in real life seeing images of burning buildings and people in balaclavas and the police not being able to control the huge amounts of people taking part in the rioting. And because it was something real that we were all watching on the news, rather than watching a film like Children or Men or any of the other great dystopian films, it just really stuck with me.

The political systems in all of the different countries certainly affected the way people viewed it. It got a really great and intellectually engaging reaction when we went to BiFan in Korea. I think that you’ve got a far right and a far left as the two main political parties vying for power so that kind of resembles the political backdrop that White Chamber is set in. Everyone dissected that basic foundation in the film and I guess maybe it resonated a little bit with the political backdrop of Korea at the moment.

And then, when we played in Sitges, obviously there’s the whole backdrop there of Catalan independence so people interpreted it in a very interesting way as well. And then at FrightFest in London and in Edinburgh it resonated with events much closer to home, largely because it’s set in the UK. So yeah, it was very interesting to take it around the world and see how people reacted depending on their specific political backdrops.

Shauna Macdonald: I don’t know if you have ever attended the Brussels International Film Festival (laughs) but they are begging for blood. Our film is just sort of touching on the horror genre really, but in terms of that film festival I think they wanted a bit more blood and guts but that’s just not what this is about really. South Korea were really all over it with some really well thought out, intelligent questions about the political angle. But that wasn’t so much the case in Brussels, where they asked me if I would maybe wear less clothes next time… (laughs)

SCREAM: You were also surprised when people started relating it to the Me Too movement.

SM: Yes. I mean, I think they were also trying to familiarise it to something that was going on at that moment but, obviously, when Paul penned it, the Me Too movement hadn’t happened at all and I’m not even sure if the Black Lives Matter movement had happened by that point. Some people have also said that it’s a feminist film. But, have you seen what she does in the movie? I’m really not sure it’s a feminist film. It’s more about a bunch of scientists rather than a female seeking out some sort of feminine angle revenge. People, like with anything, try and put their own angle on what it is.

SCREAM: Based on the synopsis and trailer, going into the film, I expected something along the lines of Cube or Saw but it’s a far cry from those. It certainly does get just as horrific at times but it’s also a politically charged movie with the antagonist intent on rejuvenating democracy. I think this was a particular concern when you screened the film at certain film festivals that you thought might have been hoping from something more “visually brutal”. 

PR: I think the Cube and Saw comparisons were always going to be there regardless of how the trailer was cut or anything like that. I feel that when people watch the film, they will soon realise that this is a film with a completely different focus. Obviously, I love films like Saw and Cube and all the different films that people are comparing it to but it is a completely different film so I would just encourage people to go and watch the film and just make their own minds up about it without going in with any specific expectations.

SCREAM: The film shows a number of drug and torture experiments and reactions. How did both the crew and cast go about researching this? I imagine you came across all kinds of disturbing discoveries? It must also have been a challenge for the actors to accurately portray the effects of being tortured in these ways?

PR: It was definitely a very interesting process because I was very interested in seeing how we could push the different aspects of our physiology to their very limits and what were the different facets of that. We looked at temperature, electricity and all that kind of stuff and that was the jump-off point and everything came from there really.

SM: Paul really wanted it to be accurate so we did look at YouTube videos of people being electrocuted and people almost freezing to death. It was really horrible but we did that to try and get an accurate performance. But, if you think about it, as an audience member, you’re not really going to sit there and go, “Hang on a minute! I don’t think that’s an accurate portrayal of electrocution!” If you’re affected by it, you’re affected by it and that’s all that matters.

It’s actually funny because my character and Oded’s character both get electrocuted and we have very different interpretations of what it is to be electrocuted but you don’t sit there and think that one of the performances is more accurate than the other.

SCREAM: And did Paul invite you to decide on which torture methods should be used on your characters?

SM: (laughs) No, we didn’t get to choose how we were tortured but I honestly don’t know what I would go for. It’d be sleep deprivation … no … hang on … tickling! I think I’d choose to be tickled to death. That’s a GOOD one, isn’t it?

SCREAM: Well then may I recommend you watch a documentary called Tickled by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve about “competitive endurance tickling”? I think you’ll love that to death.

Paul, can you walk us through the design of the actual White Chamber itself?

PR: I really wanted something very minimalist, clinical and pristine and something that was eternal; something that was almost a juxtaposition with regards to the horrifying stuff that is going on inside. And then, in terms of the dimensions of the chamber, we used the smallest legal dimensions for a prison cell that you can have in the UK, which I think was 8 feet by 12 feet. It was all actually shot on location too so the chamber was actually built in the three-tiered glass building you see in the film. We had to keep it as contained as possible because we shot it all in only twelve and a half days and we were working on such a small budget so we couldn’t really afford to get into a sound stage so we had to set it all up ourselves.

SCREAM: You shot the whole thing in just under 2 weeks. That must have made preparing everything so much more demanding, or was it a blessing in disguise in terms of constantly having you keep your wits about you?

PR: As a director, there’s only so much control you can have and you’re just there to make sure everyone buys into your vision and is able to be there to do their best work to embellish it. That’s why we were blessed to have just an amazing cast and an amazing crew and everyone brought their A game. Obviously, the actors involved are very busy actors so we had very limited prep time but every conversation I had with them both before and on set, we made it count, and they would always hit their marks and always nail their lines and never wasted a take.

SM: Sometimes, when you’re filming something, there’s lots of hanging around and you’re called for one day but you know you’re not going to be coming on until the end of that day. So White Chamber was good because you kind of hit the ground running and you just kept running, running and running until you could jump of the treadmill after twelve and a half days. For me, and my lifestyle with three kids, I thought it would be good to film something quickly and get back to my family but you don’t realise just how full throttle a production like this is until you actually do it. You don’t have time to warm up into a performance. The actors all have to get it right from the beginning. We did have a little bit of time to do a few read-throughs and to have a few chats but really it was all down to Paul who cast actors who have done it a lot before. Nick Farrell and Sharon Maughan are just brilliant, steady actors who can deliver and then Amrita was fantastic as well and, obviously, Oded too. So we kind of just did it, you know? Sometimes it’s better when there’s no time to fully connect. You just all sort of jump off the cliff together.

SCREAM: Paul, you joined forces with your regular cinematographer, Glen Warrillow who you worked with previously on Unhallowed Ground and Servant’s Quarters. But this must have been the toughest shoot yet given the claustrophobic setting and shooting everything at such close quarters?

PR: I had worked with pretty much all the HODs before and I think it is key to have that shorthand and that rapport. With Glen, as soon as we got into production, he understood where I was coming from and I knew where he was coming from. And the key to it was that we prelit the set about three days before so as soon as we all got on set on the first day of principal photography, everything was about 99.9% lit so we were good to go and we were able to shoot 360 because everything was already built into the set. It certainly took a lot of planning and then we also shot with two cameras which was key to pulling this off. And we had an extremely talented B-cam operator called Haridas Stewart and it would have been impossible without him.

SCREAM: To bring things to a close, Shauna, I know you have just been shooting a short film called Spare Parts with director Paul Barrie. And Paul, you’ve focused on directing the last two films you wrote but are you hoping to get in front of the camera again any time soon?

PR: Acting was my first love and it’s where my passion started. I still think I’m young enough that if the right acting opportunity were to come up, I could probably focus on that for twelve months or so, but at the moment, my career’s very much moving in the direction of a writer and director. In terms of what I’ve got coming up, I can’t reveal very much at all but something is going to start in about a month’s time. I’m directing another feature film and it’s a very exciting piece in a similar space to White Chamber but also very different at the same time and I think it’s going to be very exciting for people to see it.

SM: You’re absolutely right about Spare Parts. I was approached by my old drama college to come in and help the students with their filmmaking so I’ve just spent the last five days in Glasgow helping them with this short film you mentioned. It’s great to catch people at the very beginning of their journey and to remember how exciting it is. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and you kind of get into a rhythm of things. An actor starts in this profession because it’s so exciting and its joyous and you feel that you can’t live without it. But then life kind of happens and it gets to a point were some jobs are fulfilling and others are not. White Chamber really did bring me out of a bit of a rut because I was feeling a bit distraught about the whole acting thing but then the brilliant and extreme experience of White Chamber helped me to feel revived. But I always think it’s great to give back. I run a youth theatre as well in Edinburgh so I’m well into educating young people and helping them to realise that they can have a job in film and theatre. I think that should be part of the actors code: You must take time out once a year to help people at the start of their journey so that they learn from your journey…

SCREAM: Well thanks so much to you both and best of luck with the release of the film on the 29th of March.

SM: It was supposed to be Brexit but that’s not happening. (laughs). Brilliant. Thanks so much Howard. It’s been a pleasure.

PR: Cheers, Howard. Thanks for all the support.

White Chamber is out now in theatres and VOD through Dark Sky Films.

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