Movie Review: Citadel
The Charlotte Observer
Good midnight movies probably shouldn’t last much past 1:30, especially when they’re horror films. They should deliver their scares, provide enough background to answer our questions and quit after a climax with a kick.
“Citadel” has earned nominations and awards at film festivals, including the Midnight Audience Award at this year’s South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. The SXSW folks got that right: Writer-director Ciaran Foy knows his job, even if he’s never done it before – this is his feature debut – and he handles it well.
The necessity of a small budget has been the mother of Foy’s invention. He sets the film mostly in two drab locations, a grim public housing development near some unnamed Irish city and a barely more hospitable hospital.
He scares us mostly in the dark, with hooded little horrors that attack people in gray passageways and tunnels. (We finally do see their faces, which are disturbing but do not require expensive makeup.) Lighting remains effectively dim and sometimes goes out altogether, to reflect the hero’s flickering hopes.
He’s Tommy Cowley (Aneurin Barnard), a young widower who has just turned off his wife’s life-support system. She was attacked by these bestial figures in the hallway of their tenement and went into a permanent coma.
Tommy has developed agoraphobia (fear of the outdoors) and can barely drag himself to support sessions to subdue his anxiety. So the last thing he wants to hear from the odd priest at his wife’s funeral (James Cosmo) is that the feral creatures will be coming for him next to take away his infant daughter, and he’d better hunt them first.
Foy answers most of our questions, as a good horror/fantasy director should. The phone doesn’t work in Tommy’s apartment because he has legally given it up – and we’ve heard that the cops wouldn’t come to this part of town anyway, even if called.
We learn why the priest knows so much about these foul creatures, which are almost literally blind but can “see” fear. Even his ability to rig up potential devices to destroy them makes sense; he says he learned how to do that “in a past life,” and we infer he once belonged to the IRA.
Foy pays homage to horror traditions: Sins come home to roost with sinners, and there’s a character (a kindly nurse played by Wunmi Mosaku) who believes she can reason with these “children,” though they belong to another species. (We know how that turned out for scientists in 1950s outer-space flicks.)
Foy doesn’t seem to be using horror as a metaphor for social conditions, as directors often do. If he were, the only conclusion I could draw was that he considers some kids – especially those haunting public housing – so dangerous and unreachable that they require extermination.
I don’t think that’s his idea, though. I think Foy simply wants to deliver well-gauged terror and make a few points about personal responsibility and the need to overcome our fears. That he does quite well.