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Xavierpop Does @TADFilmFest – Louis Rather Enjoyed The Compelling and Well-Crafted ‘Citadel’

Citadel is a tense and frightening thriller that moves slowly and methodically into the realm of horror. This moody and atmospheric film relies on all too real worries and fears, common concerns about parenthood, and to what end one may have to go to defend their children. Tightly written and directed, it both scares one quite effectively, but also gives one a sense of hope.

The bleak and barren landscape of a social housing complex about to be torn down and rebuilt is where we find Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his very pregnant wife Joanne (Amy Shiels). Stuck in an elevator, Tommy sees Joanne attacked by some youths. She winds up in a coma and he suffers from a fairly advanced case of agoraphobia, (a fear of being out in public) as a result. The child has gone unscathed, but Tommy barely functions, finding it nearly impossible to go outside, or to relate to other humans. When life support for his wife is turned off, compassionate nurse Marie (Wunmi Mosaku) and an erratic Priest (James Cosmo) to try to help him build his life.  While Marie encourages empathy for the children who are themselves the victims of abuse and neglect, the Priest only sees them as monsters appearing in human form. In time, Tommy comes to rely on the Priest after his daughter is taken. Together, with Danny (Jake Wilson) they plan on getting Tommy’s daughter back and destroying the evil that is the hooded creatures.

Ciaran Foy wrote and directed an immensely tight and compelling thriller that delves deeply into the psyche of Tommy, his agoraphobia and the challenges he faces as a single parent.  Youth gone wild and fear of parenthood are the overt and subtle themes running throughout. Barnard does a brilliant job of projecting those fears onto the screen, giving an almost inescapable feeling of dread. Taken with the brutish architecture that has given way to abandonment and decay, Tommy is given little that offers hope or joy. How much he really sees, and how much is his fear projected isn’t very clear until later in the film. The only bright spot is his growing relationship with nurse Marie, who has grown to know Tommy through care of his wife. Gentle and kind, her firm belief in the kindness and humanity of people offers Tommy a way to find his way back. She also gives him insight into how to relate to his child, who for a time is little more than a prop. The interplay between the two is fantastic, and both give a commanding performance. So does the interplay between Tommy and the Priest come off as genuine and intense. While some things seem familiar, there is no overly cliché moments or dialogue. Most of this film is carried by Barnard, who does an amazing job of not only bringing Tommy to life, but giving his co-stars room to live and breathe as well.

This is a film of a grey world, and with few exceptions, that is how it was filmed. It sets a serious and dark tone, and maintains it throughout. Even in the moments when one finds humor, and there are several, the subtext is deadly serious. The final act is the only place where the film gets overly graphic. The violence explodes when it happens, thundering in quickly and only leaving echoes of it’s happening, reverberating that Tommy’s fears are justified. It’s not played for gore, nor is the violence simply there to have destruction. By the time they enter the Citadel, one knows exactly how fast and devastating the violence can be. Those that perpetuate evil and create this violence can smell fear. Tommy has to overcome and control his fears, using Danny as an emotional shield, ultimately reentering the building where his wife died and his child is being held.

Solid performances and writing make this film a compelling and dark psychological horror film. Well crafted and thought out, it shows what is possible in modern horror today.

Recommended for both horror and psychological thriller fans.