(This review originally appeared at Reel Film News on November 16, 2012.)
Director Ciarán Foy’s Citadel is an uncomfortable movie; its aesthetic, its manner, its story – everything about it speaks of great unease. Billed as a horror film, Citadel encompasses one man’s life turning from being a young, hopeful husband to an agoraphobic shell of what barely passes as human. Outside of a shatteringly good performance by lead actor Aneurin Barnard, there’s not much else to look at, and there’s not a whole lot that can be said in its defense as a straight-up horror movie. When viewed in the context of social commentary, however, the film does make some valid statements on inner city, lower class life.
Starting out as a man who’s about to move out of a dilapidated apartment tower block (the titular citadel), we see Tommy (Barnard) relaxed and eager. Circumstances beyond his control take him to the opposite of who he once was, and make him a man clinging on to the last shreds of his sanity by his ragged fingernails. His expressive eyes are the focus of Foy’s camera; we see a lot of closeups of his face, often trembling in fright or panic, as he scurries like a rat on a sinking ship through his life. Barnard’s eyes bulge at the many forms of terror that approach him, and that alone is enough to put any observer off and instill massive amounts of dread; his performance keeps this film watchable and engaging.
However, the horror really never brings itself to the pinnacle that Foy seemingly wants to achieve. Instead, Citadel is a low-key movie content to be a thinly-veiled commentary about facing one’s fears, becoming a man, social status, and the dangers of gang culture and the way it’s absorbing and killing the lower class. Within a construct of a horror movie, we see Tommy being assailed by feral “hoodies” with rotting faces, a crazed priest (James Cosmo) who’s on a violent crusade to eliminate the hoodies, and his biggest enemy: the outside world. His agoraphobia is crippling to the point where he cannot walk with any semblance of confidence while he’s outside, much less see the outside as anything but a hazy, lagged representation of itself. And either by his fears or the priest’s suggestion, he sees the hoodies as these snarling, zombie-like wretches that attack anything and everyone within their grasp.
The trouble is that although the mood inspired by Tommy’s insanity is certainly thick with peril and bordering on tangible, that’s all we are ever given. Citadel is told entirely from his point of view, leaving no other possible interpretations of perceived madness. Are these hoodies really snarling creatures with glowing eyes, or are they simply how he sees the type of people who damaged his life irreparably? By film’s end, not only are your ears wracked with the sounds of the damaged and your nerves shot from the claustrophobic tension that both the location and photography give you, your being is a little weary of the heavy-handed metaphor being shoveled upon you. Tiresome and pedantic, Citadel shifts constantly; it goes from loud to soft, scary to tender, violent to peaceful. It doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be, but it wants so desperately to freak you out and finds itself falling a little short.