Tourism officials in Ireland are probably not championing Citadel. Almost oppressively dank and dreary, it’s an odd little chiller that features few speaking roles and a unique twist on the killer kids subgenre.
The opening scene is incredibly frightening and effectively sets the tone. A happy young couple, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and Joanne (Amy Shiels), is leaving their apartment building to head for the hospital so she can give birth to their first child. Tommy carries her bag to a taxi outside and then takes the elevator back up to the 11th floor. It’s an old, decrepit building and when he arrives the elevator door won’t open. He watches helplessly as hooded figures attack his wife. When he finds her she is bloodied and has a needle sticking out of her stomach.
At the hospital a comatose Joanne gives birth to a healthy girl. Tommy returns home with his daughter but suffers from agoraphobia. He is in a support group but still struggles with paralyzing fear any time he steps outside the apartment building. The group is preparing him for events in the near future that will require him to go outside. First, after nine months, doctors are removing Joanne from life support and Tommy will need to be there. Later on there is the matter of his living situation.
By this time we know something is seriously wrong. Joanne has been attacked. There are posters for missing children all over Tommy’s neighborhood. Then, at Joanne’s funeral, a crusty old priest (James Cosmo) tells Tommy that his daughter is not safe. They will be coming for her soon. It turns out that the priest knows all about the hooded figures.
Tommy is supposed to leave his building. It is being demolished along with other crumbling structures nearby and redeveloped. But his agoraphobia prevents him from doing so. He is stuck in his apartment with his daughter, and those things are outside. It is dark out and no one else is around. Before long, a hooded figure is at the door. Tommy is going to have to get his daughter to safety somehow. That will not be easy.
Citadel gets a ton of mileage out of its setting. The building and surrounding area are just as forbidding during the day as they are at night. There are no other people there, no signs of life. It sort of feels like Candyman, set in Chicago’s long gone Cabrini Green, desolate and intimidating and with far less people. And with homicidal, hooded demon children in place of Candyman.
Writer/director Ciaran Foy does a nice job leveraging the location and the hooded figures to generate considerable tension. For the bulk of the running time we never get a good look at the latter, but we know that they are dangerous and best avoided. Foy keeps them in the shadows until the end. There are brief glimpses of them behind doors and in the reflection of various objects. It enhances the mystery and the sense of danger.
Barnard’s performance is another asset. He creates a sympathetic, believable character you root for. You just want the poor guy to get his daughter and get the hell out of there.
Eventually the hooded figures are revealed and the priest supplies information about who they are and where they came from. While they are creepy-looking, they were more foreboding when we had to imagine who they were and what they looked like. And even though the conclusion isn’t as compelling as what comes before it, Citadel is still a scary, well-made horror flick.
Citadel screened as part of the Milwaukee Film Fest’s Cinema Hooligante program and will be shown at Toronto After Dark later this month.