Shy, timid Tommy’s (Aneurin Barnard) life falls apart when his heavily pregnant wife is attacked in the hallway of his decaying apartment block by a gang of hooded, viciously feral children. Traumatised by his wife’s death and suffering from agoraphobia, Tommy struggles to care for his newborn daughter alone, spends his days either hiding out indoors or attending intensivegroup therapy sessions designed to rebuild his confidence and allow him the semblance of a normal life.
Crippled by his own paralysing fear and still terrorised by the faceless, possibly supernatural, gang, Tommy’s life is a living hell. But the gang have plans for him, are seemingly intent on kidnapping his infant daughter. With the aid of a vigilante (possibly insane) priest (James Cosmo) who’s convinced the gang areactual monsters and a blind child (Jake Wilson) who may have special powers, Tommy is forced to venture into the dark heart of evil and face his fears if he wants to save his baby and himself.
Partially inspired, apparently, by a violent street attack writer/director Ciaran Foysuffered (though it also bears more than a passing resemblance to Philip Ridley’s sublime urban horror Heartless), Citadel, with its inner city decay, cowering underclass and sub-human, goblin-like hoodies preying on pregnant women and babies, is practically a Daily Mail editorial set to celluloid. Set in a nightmarish, fairytale world that could be anywhere in the British Isles – think it’s supposed to be somewhere in Ireland but it’s obviously been shot in Glasgow with mostly English actors (barring a scenery-chewing James Cosmo) and a Welsh hero – the lack of a clear sense of place actually aids Citadel, adding to the film’s sense of desolate isolation and its sense of dislocation.
While the politics of the film are muddy and feel a little middle class reactionary – the poor here are another species entirely and things don’t go well for the nice liberal nurse (Wunmi Mosaku) who thinks all the hoodies need is a hug – leaving a bad taste in the mouth, Foy certainly knows what he’s doing visually, building a palpable sense of atmospheric dread, a world of dark tunnels, sickly green corridors and roaming packs of shadowy, feral figures. And lets be honest, few things are scarier than a half-glimpsed figure in the shadows at the end of the corridor before you.
As Tommy, Aneurin Barnard is a frustratingly impotent, passive protagonist. Yes, Ciaran, we know getting mugged isn’t pleasant but you gotta get back up on the horse, son. Could your hero maybe grow a pair at some point? This isn’t helped by Barnard, with his mop of black curls and big soulful emo eyes looking like the kind of pretty hobbit that, if you absolutely had to do time, you’d want as your cellmate. Cosmo meanwhile, as the vigilante priest, seems to be channeling a gakked up version of his character from Braveheart, cracking skulls, chewing the scenery and improvising explosives like he’s just graduated from the Provisional wing of the Jesuits.
Creepy and ambiguous, right up until it isn’t, Citadel is a dark, tense little horror flick that’s undeniably gripping even if all you can think the whole way through is WHY DIDN’T TOMMY AND HIS WIFE JUST GET THE SAME ELEVATOR AT THE START? It would’ve saved the poor lad a lot of heartache and maybe made sense.