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Genre is a perfect means of expression.
Heightening real world anxieties by way of darker, fantastical material is
artful, creative and exciting. But what happens when a filmmaker’s personal
exploration of their own illness, by way of demonic violence, is almost too
literal? CITADEL, an Irish film from newcomer Ciaran Foy is such a work. A
heavy, by all means eerie, atmospheric and strong debut, weighed down by its
As most that saw the film this past week in Austin
discovered, CITADEL was born out of Foy’s own battle with a vicious assault and
his resulting agoraphobia. Thusly, the film sees young father Tommy (Aneurin
Barnard) shut himself in from the world
following the brutal murder of his wife in their condemned and decrepit tower
block. As he struggles to care for his infant daughter, and face the outside,
Tommy and the baby soon become stalked by hooded adolescent assailants—the same
responsible for the his wife’s death—who may be less than human.
Interestingly, the film shares some serious parallels with
last year’s South By breakout ATTACK THE BLOCK. Both are entrenched in working
class culture and tower blocks, as well as the highly publicized issue of UK
hooded violence, and neither is concerned with an outsider coming in and
battling their way through the environment. CITADEL has much less of an issue
of race on its mind, and is also trying to steer clear of larger statements
about the society and politics it lives in however; an intention that’s not
entirely successful. It's doubtful audiences will not be prompted to read in
to Tommy’s guiding forces throughout; a gentle, warm nurse (Wunmi Mosaku), and
an abrasive, “kill ‘em all” crusading priest (James Cosmo) which read as an angel/devil device of kindly liberal, or aggressively
conservative/intolerant. Of course, as Foy isn’t so much concerned with these
ideas, any inspection will find a muddled viewpoint.
CITADEL is also much less humorous. Foy is working through
issues onscreen for the world to see, and in doing so crafts a truly scary
environment. His assured visual sense lays a truly sickening greenish hue over
the proceedings, adding a melancholic and frantic tone to Tommy’s daily life,
one full of constant paranoia. The children are positively intimidating tiny,
hooded monsters, whose ghastly faces come in and out of shadows. They’re
vicious and, possibly most unnerving, armed with filthy syringes. Tommy is of
course, terrified of the prospect of his child being taken, and himself being
devoured by the world he comes from.
What’s odd about CITADEL, and what leaves the viewer feeling
this otherwise very good film didn’t click, is its seeming path in one
direction, while eventually (thankfully) and still wholeheartedly giving itself
over to pure horror. The violent, loud and quite pulpy Priest often ends up
feeling out of a different movie, and it's a strange case of both the surface
and sub textual levels of a film being so tightly knit, the story doesn't feel
balanced. It's something that may work itself out on repeat viewings however,
which CITADEL absolutely warrants.
What brings the mostly quite strong CITADEL down is that in
hewing so close to Foy's experiences, and discarding the larger societal
aspects of them, there's not much left aside from the film's message of
overcoming one's demons. It's an admirable and certainly well executed one, but
mainly very surface value.
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