Directed by Ciaran Foy
Featuring Amy Shiels, Aneurin Barnard, James Cosmo
Silence is terrifying.
If you wonder why we’re constantly plugged into our phones and music you don’t need to look any further than Ciaran Foy’s atmospheric horror film Citadel. Set in the gloomy, perma-cloudy Britain that filmmakers so often like to use, Citadel begins with a young couple Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his pregnant wife Joanne (Amy Shiels). While they are trying to leave the low-income house they live in, ironically called Edentown, Joanne is brutally attack by a gang of young hoodlums while Tommy is forced to look on, unable to help. Joanne falls into a coma but gives birth to a baby girl. Now Tommy is forced to raise an infant while struggling with his own agoraphobia in a bleak and friendless world.
Tommy meets a priest (James Cosmo) who informs him that the children who attacked his wife are not human and will be coming after his baby daughter. And with that, Foy has set up a terrifying story about fear, paranoia and growing up. Citadel is about a place that society is choosing to forget; a place that bus drivers will no longer stop at and that has been abandoned by its inhabitants. It is also about fear in its many forms. From Tommy’s very real agoraphobia to the inhuman children to society’s blind eye, fear is present in many forms that questions what we choose to accept and ignore in our lives. Foy presents us with our typical notions of fear in the inhuman and supernatural while placing them alongside an all too real phobia that many people struggle with on a daily basis.
U.K. horror seems to be dealing with these themes much differently than the rest of the world. In the last three years we’ve seen the likes of the revenge thriller Harry Brown (2009), the satirical Attack the Block (2011) all set in Britain’s housing projects. Citadel begins with the condemned apartment complex in which Tommy and Joanne live on the verge being demolished. They are on their way out, about to start a new life. After Joanne’s attack, the children follow Tommy trying to take his daughter is symbolic of not being able to escape one’s past (while being terrorized by something out of the darkest parts of The Brood). The British housing project sub-genre is about subversion, from Michael Caine’s Death Wish to kids saving the day, the British slums in film are a place where the unexpected nearly always triumphs. Citadel boldly takes an character that would normally never carry a horror film and uses Tommy’s personal struggle to illuminate the horror that follows him.
At its core, Citadel works because of Aneurin Barnard’s Tommy. Barnard gives Tommy a truly interesting mix of frustration, anger and fear. He makes Tommy’s neurosis understandable, from being afraid to walk through a door to being chased by a very real threat. It is instances like this that play to Citadel’s strengths where it blurs the line between psychological thriller and out and out horror flick. It makes our paranoia and fear all too real while mirroring society’s own fear and neurosis.
While we’ve seen evil children time and again (The Brood, The Children, Pet Sematary to name only a few) but Citadel skews the premise to ask not if our offsping are evil, but if are we able to protect them. It is a deeply personal movie that asks a lot of its audience in terms of engagement and attention, but the pay-off and heart-break within the film make it one of the most personal horror films to come along in a long time. Citadel is a dark and foreboding journey into the dark parts of urban paranoia that ultimately pays off with its dream like imagery and bleak tone that results in one of the most adult horror films in recent memory.