Like The Brood, Ciarán Foy’s Citadel was inspired by real life events. David Cronenberg’s iconic 1979 horror film showed the physical manifestation of anger through mutant, murderous children and channeled the rage the director felt following an ugly divorce. Citadel features a gang of similarly mutated murderers and reflects the director’s struggle to deal with the physical and emotional toll he endured after being attacked by a gang of kids.
Both films deal with the fantastic, but while Cronenberg tends to sublimate his angst through far more outlandishly indirect tropes, Citadel unflinchingly examines what it’s like to live, sleep, and breathe fear.
Citadel‘s tone is similar to Philip Ridley’s great 2009 film Heartless, in which a young man must come to terms with his fear of gangs of children who appear demonic in origin. Both films are set in the poverty-stricken, violent suburbs of London. Both deal with the aftermath of the murder of a loved one by gang members. In Citadel, they’re referred to as “hoodies.”
Citadel is even more claustrophobic, not just because of the effective aura of dread it conveys throughout, but because its razor sharp focus is on Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his attempt to recover not just from the trauma of his wife’s murder but his own debilitating agoraphobia. On top of this, he must take care of their infant daughter and protect her from the roving rage of the hoodies.
Barnard (who looks uncannily like a green-eyed Elijah Wood) heartbreakingly conveys the all-encompassing fear that agoraphobia instills in its victims: Panic attacks, paranoia, and uncontrollable emotions—from helplessness, to sorrow, to blinding rage. Anyone who has ever suffered from similar maladies will immediately recognize the symptoms, but even those who don’t will weep for Tommy and his predicament.
What’s more terrifying is Tommy’s fear that just because he’s paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get him. Tommy finds what he thinks is proof of this in the priest (only referred to as “Father”) who performs the funeral service for his wife. If Tommy is a tightly coiled fist of emotions, Father (James Cosmo) is an IED. He swears profusely, isn’t afraid to throw a punch to make his point, and makes Brendan Gleeson’s resume of crazy firebrands look almost tame by comparison
Father feeds Tommy’s paranoia, much to the chagrin of his friend Marie, portrayed with subtle tenderness by Winmu Mosaku. Marie is the one person Tommy feels he can trust, so when things go from bad to worse, Tommy seeks the help of Father.
It’s not just to avoid spoilers that I hate to give away any more plot details; it’s also because watching Citadel is such an uncomfortable, intense experience I don’t want to detract from it. It’s not without moments of bleak humor, though, much of it emanating from the inimitable character of Father.
The score from tomandandy is excellent, which will come as no surprise to those familiar with their work on films like The Mothman Prophecies, The Hills Have Eyes, The Strangers, and And Soon The Darkness. Tim Fleming, the director of photography, keeps the warped camera angles to a minimum; the burden of proof of Tommy’s paranoia is all in his acting. At this he is painstakingly and painfully convincing. As for the hoodies, they are genuinely scary. The film dispenses such scares sparingly and with a genuine aura of menace.
It’s astonishing that this is Foy’s first feature; it’s as impeccably realized and consistently suspenseful as that of a horror veteran. Citadel is the best kind of horror movie: a skillful blend of real-life and supernatural terrors filtered through a sympathetic protagonist. Do not miss it.