Citadel is a tense and well made horror which manages to make good use of various horror stereotypes without relying on them to drive the film. The result is perhaps less jump-inducingly scary than many modern horror films but ends up as a better film overall.
Warning: Like the film itself, this post contains some foul language. If you are offended by swearing or mild spoilers, please look away now.
Like fellow UK horror/thriller Tower Block, this film begins with a violent assault in a soon to be torn down tower block.
This time it is hooded kids rather than gangsters and snipers that do the attacking and it is a pregnant woman who gets assaulted. In the aftermath, Tommy is left to bring up his daughter on his own and cope with the anxiety, paranoia and agoraphobia that has resulted from his emotional trauma. Much of the film feels like a metaphor for Tommy’s emotional state, lights dim or go out or mysteriously come back on perhaps indicating his mental state. For a while it is not clear whether the events that keep traumatising Tommy are real or part of his condition but most of the ambiguity is done away with in the final reel.
Standard horror film tricks are used to good effect with much of the tense action taking place in darkened rooms, shadows and reflections of sinister characters moving in the background without the main character noticing. The clever thing with this film is that these tricks are used to build the tension and to bring you closer to understanding the mental state of the main character. In lesser movies they would purely be used, in conjunction with a loud musical sting, to make you jump. I didn’t notice any musical or sound effects trickery designed to cause jumps at any point in this film. That’s not to say there aren’t any jumps or that it isn’t scary but it creeps up on you rather than running at you screaming.
The idea that the bad guys can only see people who are afraid of them is an interesting take on the old theme of having to be quiet or standing still to avoid the t-rex or keeping cool to avoid the gaze of the predator. It also obviously ties in nicely to the theme of Tommy having to master his fear in order to get on with his life.
Aneurin Barnard does an excellent job playing Tommy and you can really feel the fear he is experiencing. He convincingly portrays an emotionally damaged and frail character throughout the film. He also makes the character likeable so you are really rooting for him when the time comes in the climax.
The “bad guys” in this film are some kind of feral children. This seems to be deliberate to play on the fears of the hooded menace of teenagers in hoodies menacing ordinary law abiding folks. I’m not really sure how or why all these feral children have matching hoodies. I can’t decide whether there isn’t enough explanation of where these children come from or not enough. The explanation that there is feels like it was added in at the last minute from fear that the audience wouldn’t understand. There are hints about infection and drugs and some other things that would be spoilers so I won’t mention them. I think it would be better to leave it all out really and just leave it to the rumours.
This film wins the award for most foul mouthed priest. James Cosmo’s character, simply called “Priest” or “Father” throughout, isn’t exactly a Mean Motherfucking Servant of God, but he certainly is a Bad Motherfucker. Most of his lines contain the F word and I’ve never seen a priest shout “Lets kill these fuckers” while trying to convince someone to help him kill some children. (To be fair they deserve it). The first time he speaks to Tommy is after his wife’s funeral to say “Why don’t you fuck off home?” so we know from the start that this is no normal priest. Perhaps the effect of later events would have been increased if he had at first come across as a normal priest rather than a foul mouthed unbeliever.