Review: Irish horror film 'Citadel' mixes agoraphobia and creepy kids
Ciaran Foy's film "Citadel" would be an effective horror film if all he did was successfully impart to the audience the crushing anxiety and cold-sweat fear that is the everyday state of an agoraphobic, but when you add creepy mutant kids to the mix, you get a potent cocktail that should please horror fans enormously.
Foy talked about the origin of the film briefly before the screening and told the audience that following a random act of violence against him, he developed a crippling case of agoraphobia, and that the film is part of his desire to overcome the problem. I would believe it, because the set-up for the film is very direct, very personal, and effectively etches an incident in which Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his pregnant wife Joanne (Amy Shiels) are getting ready to move out of the block housing tower where they live in a particularly blasted part of Ireland. Tommy is carrying bags out to the waiting taxi, and on his way back up, the elevator (which is just as dented and damaged as everything else in the building) stalls, and he can't get the door to open. He can see into the hallway where Joanne waits, though, which absolutely tears him up when he sees a group of strange kids in hoodies crowd into the hall and attack her. By the time he manages to get to his wife, she's had a hypodermic needle stabbed deeply into her stomach, and she's having some sort of reaction to whatever she's been injected with.
The baby is delivered, intact and alive, but Joanne slips into a coma due to a mysterious infection caused by the stuff from the syringe. Tommy is rendered helpless, broken by the incident and almost completely unable to go outside. His condition is so profound that he has to be checked into a hospital for help, and only upon his release nine months later is he allowed to take his newborn daughter home. All of this is dealt with in the first ten or fifteen minutes, and for a while, the film just deals with how horrifying it is to try to deal with caring for an infant while grappling with a psychological disorder that makes almost every single daily action seem harder than it should be.
Foy's designed some real monsters, though, and I think Eric Vespe's description of the film as "'The Brood' meets 'Contagion'" is pretty dead-on. The external horrors of "Citadel" tap into what I see as a very European trend in horror over the last few years, something that I've seen building over the last few years. When I visited London at one point, I was warned by friends not to walk around with the hood of my sweatshirt pulled up, and that if possible, I shouldn't even wear a sweatshirt with a hood. There's a fear of a younger population that is very present in European films and European culture, and the way it's manifesting in films like this one or "Attack The Block" or the French film "Them" is fascinating. I think horror is a great way to deal with real-life anxieties, and when you look at these films, what comes through clearly is that there is a whole generation that they feel like they've failed with, and they're terrified of what they're going to eventually become. It's an interesting subtext to follow through all of these films, and I'm curious to see how it evolves in the next few years.
I really liked James Cosmo in the film, playing a huge possibly psychotic priest who may know the answers to everything that's happening in the film, and Wunmi Mosaku does nice work as well playing Marie, a nurse who takes pity on Tommy. It's interesting seeing how vulnerable a person becomes when they're pushing a stroller around, and the film does a nice job putting Tommy in situations where his agoraphobia seems entirely appropriate as a response to what's happening. Tim Fleming's photography is suitably grimy, and looking at this film, you'd believe that everything green in Ireland is dead now. I'm curious to see what Foy does next, because while it's not the best horror film I've seen this year, "Citadel" is definitely a strong exercise in voice and mood, and well worth a look for genre fans.
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