Starring: Aneurin Barnard, James Cosmo, Wunmi Mosaku
You may like this if you like: Heartless (Philip Ridley, 2009), Maniac (Franck Khalfoun, 2012), The Woman in Black (James Watkins, 2012)
Ever since his wife was brutally attacked by a gang of hooded children, young single father Tommy (Barnard) suffers from severe agoraphobia, struggling to pluck up the courage to leave his house in an almost derelict and desolate Irish inner city. After the same youths keep on coming to his house to seemingly take his daughter and following cryptic warnings from a priest, he seeks to discover the true and shocking identity of these youths, as well as conquering his own fears.
For anyone that has had firsthand experience of the horrible little shits that seem to hang around Britain’s urban streets with no awareness of social morality whatsoever, Citadel certainly strikes a worryingly familiar chord. Apparently partly inspired by director Ciaran Foy’s own experience of being attacked, Citadel is a film that despite its supernatural themes will feel depressingly familiar to so many of us. “They can sense your fear” states a medical professional, but it is described in a way appropriate to both creatures from another world, as well as the seemingly intuitive sensory ability those that hang around Britain’s streets have to pick on people that are perfect victims. It is in its simplicity that plays a huge part in making Citadel an atmospheric and deeply disturbing film.
These extremely familiar themes, as well as an extremely committed performance from Aneurin Barnard, provide us with a protagonist we can easily relate to. Foy also proves that a huge budget is not necessary to produce a great atmosphere. Hollywood seems to throw money at terrible horror films these days, but with an extremely low budget, Foy has managed to produce a genuinely disturbing and effective atmosphere that can only be envied by such boring big budget ‘horror’ films.
The on location filming of a desolate and abandoned inner city estate, combined with grim cinematography creates a genuine sense of both claustrophobia and isolation. Despite the supernatural elements of the antagonists, Foy manages to keep things genuinely scary as many night time scenes seem worryingly familiar to frequent news reports or those late walks home by ourselves.
As the plot enters its final third it is a little contrived and perhaps obvious, but the excellent work of the first two thirds makes this perfectly forgivable. After spending this time with this protagonist, we do genuinely root for him.
Despite its low budget, Citadel is a deeply atmospheric and frighteningly familiar horror film. The final third may be inevitably contrived and a little predictable, but the genuinely relatable tension of the first two provides more than enough for an extremely satisfying and deeply involving psychological horror.