Fatherhood gets more frightening
“I saw the world as a frightened 18-year-old, and married it with my love of genre films.”- Ciaran Foy, Director. Based on his real life experience as a victim of a gang street attack and a consequential agoraphobia condition which he battled with throughout his 20’s, the Irish filmmaker explores the darkest corners of society in his debut feature film, Citadel.
Following the murder of his pregnant wife by a brood of twisted feral children, a now agoraphobic, single father must face his fears and overcome those same kids who torment him and his infant daughter.
Tommy (Aneurin Banardo) is forced to reside with his young daughter Elsa in a decrepit council house in a dilapidated suburban area. His paralyzing fears of the outside world border him inside its walls as he scarcely bares enough courage to attend support meetings and hospital appointments. When the hooded figures begin to circle his home, vandalizing and eventually breaking in to steal Elsa, Tommy is forced to break out to see who they are and what they want with his daughter. They strive on the smell of fear; in order to face the demons, Tommy must learn to ‘feel the fear, and let is pass.’ Teaming up with a corrupt Priest (James Cosmo) who wants to burn down the tower block (the ‘citadel’) where the abhorrent creatures hide, he must return to his former residence and the place of his wife’s fatal encounter, and test the lengths a father would go to protect his own.
The eerie suspense lies not only in the hoodlum’s invasive activity in and around the house, but in the mystery of the hooded figures identity. The unknown motivation for their terrorizing can be likened to that in Funny Games and The Strangers, and we feel an overshadowing sense of claustrophobia and panic in the victim’s entrapment. But this chilling uneasiness and anxious tension fails to withhold, soon diminishing when we learn of their appearance, incentives and history as Tommy embarks on his task in the latter half of the film. Subsequently we experience a less captivating and more underwhelming stance in the transition from a tightly confined tangible nightmare to an outward mission for revenge and answers. Nonetheless, Tommy’s venture with the priest and his son (Jake Wilson) is both absorbing and frightening, not letting up in its nail-biting, jumpy demeanour. Some may say this is where the real ‘horror’ begins; though Foy doesn’t indulge so much in the blood and gore aspects, the threat becomes an actuality and the violence kicks in. The bleak, derelict tone and claustrophobia of the abandoned, poverty-stricken neighbourhood remains present in the narrow passageways and dimly lit corridors of the abused citadel, and thrives further in its isolation by excluding law enforcements and any other unnecessary characters to the plot. Even the hospital seems largely deserted!
Banardo leads the front in the most mesmerizing performance in horror this year. Overwhelmed by ongoing grief, frustration, terror and paranoia, Barnardo embodies the emotional wreckage of societal decay’s most vulnerable victim. Though his plight could easily have manufactured a weak and inept father figure, he steals the show in his emotionally charged performance. His agonizing expression signposts his desperation for help and his struggle to engage with his child encapsulates some remarkably powerful, heartbreaking scenes which offer a sympathetic distraction to the story’s figurative horrors. Even his situation with his comatose wife Joanne (Amy Shiels) steals our hearts.
Cosmo amuses in his role as a seemingly insane, blasphemes priest, providing light entertainment in his rude, cursing, and sarcastic manner but marks the turn of the film’s direction and needlessly fills in the explanatory details –his personal motivation for helping Tommy and the historic birthplace for the infected spawn of inbreds.
Local hospital nurse Marie (Wunmi Mosaku) offers Tommy not only a reassuring outlet of nursing and aid, but also friendly and sensitive support. More interesting though, she provides a symbolic representation of the generic attitude of the cities population, being ignorant of the ‘kids’ real condition and passing them off on a daily basis as simply misunderstood and harmless. In this palpable example of society’s immoral depths, Foy raises some interesting, but overtly obvious, questions about the justice and treatment of today’s incessant teenage gang crime.
VERDICT: A gritty, suburban nightmare for one man at the hands of an infected youth which glows in its enclosed setting and enigmatic state, but slightly loses its tense trepidation when the conflict is realised and fought outdoors.