There is a clear contemporary feel to Ciaran Foy’s Citadel, the new Irish horror film. Horror films can reflect the times and the societal pressures we live under, George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy being a perfect example. The horror in Citadel is certainly concerned with the everyday world in which we find ourselves. It is in the dark winter nights when we are afraid to venture out.
is a country that has shut
its eyes, lest we see what has become of it. It is a horrifying idea that we
may have lost our country to decay, both financial and moral. Social issues are
scattered across the muddied palette of Citadel,
with the fear of marauding out-of-control gangs the main worry here. It also
touches on urban decay, the terrifying concept of ghost estates and most
importantly the dangers of ignoring the needs of the poorest in society. If you
do not feed and nourish them at some point they will bite back. But perhaps all
this would be rendered mute if the film itself didn’t work in horror terms. I
am happy to say that for the most part Citadel
does get under your skin but with some reservations. Ireland
The story begins with Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his pregnant wife leaving their crumbling tower block apartment for the last time. Whilst an agoraphobic Tommy is stuck in the malfunctioning lift his wife is attacked by hooded youths. Tommy sees the attack but is unable to help her and she ends up in a coma. Their baby is delivered early and Tommy looks after the child on his own in a small house in an area that is rapidly falling part. Tommy’s agoraphobia has worsened to the point that he can barely leave the house. Even when he does make it out he is terrified of the threats he perceives on the streets.
The film is at its most effective in the first hour or so. The visual representation of Tommy’s agoraphobia and the heightened sound design combine spectacularly well to create an atmosphere of pure dread. This is all done without anything substantial happening, mostly suggested movements taking place at the edges of the frame. Tommy’s fear that the hooded youths have come back to take his child is a plausible one and creates tension. The streets where he lives are also impressively oppressive, with the buses in particular given a disgusting sheen. Anyone who has got on a dodgy last bus home will recognise the same feeling albeit in heightened terms here. This is all very good and there is a sense at this point that this could be a bit of a horror gem. Alas, this is where Citadel falls into the familiar trap that a lot of horror films fall into: the dreaded film character ‘exposition’.
The introduction of a local priest (a scenery chewing James Cosmo) who knows more about the gangs than he lets on slows the story down. There is also a kindly nurse (Wunmi Mosaku) who believes that people are inherently good. It is at this point the film takes a momentum killing hiatus to explain what is happening and give as much back-story as possible. This somewhat kills the carefully built up atmosphere created in the first hour. So many horror films do this and it is really not necessary. The film rallies for its final act, delivering a decent conclusion within the budget constraints. There is an unfortunate CGI heavy shot at the end that really could have been left out. What is most frustrating about the finale is that some of the imagery on display would have been so much more effective and horrifying without the exposition that came beforehand. But there are scares to be had in the final act and it concludes the film on the right note.
Citadel is a film well worth seeing at the cinema. Foy is a director to watch and given a decent budget and with this experience under him he may well go on to great things. A wobbly middle aside his direction is crisp with some excellent shots that work very well. Just stop telling me the whys and wherefores. I really do not need to know. At its best Citadel is a film that will have you squirming nervously in your cinema seat. You cannot ask much more from a horror film than that.