THE POWER is a film about ghosts and possessions just as much as it is about real-world abuse and cover-ups. The film is set in 1974 London during a time when electricity was shut off to conserve power, which yes, that actually did happen. Mostly taking place inside a hospital, Val (Rose Williams) steps in for her first day on the job. The reserved Val is asked to work the night shift in a nearly pitch-black ICU unit where things that have happened at the hospital and to her start unraveling.
For the home release of THE POWER, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Josh Taylor sat down with the writer and director of the film, Corinna Faith, to discuss both the real-world ideas this film draws inspiration from as well as the technical challenges that are required to create a period piece in the dark.
First off, THE POWER has many different meanings as a title. And this movie has a lot of different layers to it. So, what drew you to make it a horror film rather than just a drama or period piece?
Corinna Faith: Well, I was very much looking to write and make the ghost story specifically, but I do find that it’s hard to find territory rich enough for a ghost story to sustain that for a whole film, because it’s quite poetic and yet quite simple in a way. Then there were a lot of horrifying stories of institutional cover-up, abuse scandals that were happening in the UK press at the time, and they were just very impactful to me. I thought that was very rich territory for a ghost story with these kinds of lost young lives and voices. The power dynamics of a situation where that’s possible, where that can happen, and it can be covered up for that long. All those things collided.
There’s definitely this underlying tone, not only of abuse, but also past trauma, and not only from the power from men, but from a social hierarchy. Some of the nurses don’t believe in Val and it feels like it’s because she’s of Italian descent or because she is coming from a foster care situation. How do you navigate such a sensitive minefield?
Corinna Faith: These are real things that happen to people. These kinds of power dynamics are constantly at work. I didn’t really feel that I needed to tip-toe around it. I feel like a want to talk about it. Does that make sense? I was just very keen to look at all the different ways that these kinds of events and dynamics and traumas can be allowed to happen and that, in an institutional setting, if something is going wrong with people’s behavior, something big is being covered up. Presumably, there’s a whole bunch of really quite normal people who are all subtly involved in that situation. That was my starting point for developing the characters and thinking about who was going to be in the story.
There’s also an idea that gets brought up especially early on in the film about the connection between poverty and the health of people. We’ve seen this over the last year or so with this pandemic that has raged and people in more impoverished places have felt that wrath a lot more. Do you think that resonates, especially now more than ever?
Corinna Faith: Yeah, of course, I had no idea that COVID was coming, but absolutely it does. I mean, around the world poverty and lack of life chances and the impact that has on your life expectancy and your health is just still profound, isn’t it? So, I felt like that was something that our character Val would be acutely aware of from what she’s seen. That’s why she would be drawn to nursing, to try and have some kind of impact on that. That was in my mind from the beginning, but I had no idea how resonant that would become.
On the more like technical side, what are the challenges in trying to recreate a historical space and being in nearly complete darkness?
Corinna Faith: We had to block out a lot of the spaces, and there were some big spaces. That was a really big technical challenge, because we couldn’t just work at night. It would have killed the crew. How to shoot big spaces and black some of them out was a complex part of scheduling. It was strange being in the dark all of the time. The technicalities of the lamps, which were quite often real gas lamps we using. They could suck up quite a lot of shoot time because they were constantly breaking or going out or misbehaving. So, that was tricky. Obviously, the dark is a big part of the story, and was also a big friend, in many ways, because it brings so much to the atmosphere straightaway, and allowed us quite a lot of poetic license with the period setting. You can only see so much really, and we could control as much as we wanted to show.
The period stuff also looks amazing. How did you bring that to life? It feels like a classic hospital, and at times, kind of like a psych ward.
Corinna Faith: Yes, that’s true. We looked at a lot of archives. We looked at hair, makeup, and costumes. Our production designer [Francesca Massariol] was very much drawn to doing lots of research. So, there’s a lot of accuracy, but ultimately, we were using color more than anything to create the atmosphere and give it its own flavor. There were period colors and that was one of our biggest tools. We were more interested in creating a strong atmosphere than getting it completely 100% accurate, especially when it came to props. It has the flavor of the time, but it’s our own version of it really.
Obviously, this is a ghost story and it deals a bit with possession. There is always a possibility of that coming off as hokey. What was your direction in creating that and making it feel realistic?
Corinna Faith: For me and Rose [Williams], the starting point was quite a real one. The idea of any abusive sexual encounter is like a possession. Any trauma that we carry is like possession because it’s something that is within you, and that takes over. We came at it very much from that point of view, rather than the straightforward horror tradition. Rose and I spent a couple of days choreographing the possession scene because it’s a big central part of the story. It’s a big moment for Val when she is lost to a possession. We thought about the kind of shapes that the body would make if somebody was being attacked, and then took away the attacker. It all came from those kinds of real-world ideas and then was morphed into something more expressive.
RLJE Films will release THE POWER on VOD, Digital HD, and DVD on September 21, 2021. To learn more about the film, check out our review!