Following into the footsteps of UK's positive horror film track record of late, Ireland is trying to breach the horror market with a few of its own efforts. The results have been pretty mixed so far (though I admit I've only seen Shrooms, Wake Wood and Spiderhole), but with Citadel things are definitely looking up. Ciaran Foy delivers a strong and confident genre film that deserves a special mention and left me begging for more.
Citadel is a pure genre flick so originality clearly wasn't one of Foy's main concerns. Broadly speaking, Citadel is a film that reaffirms UK's fear-inducing hoodie image (Harry Brown, Eden Lake), mixes it with the setting of Outcast and borrows quite liberally from Cronenberg's The Brood. Throw in a little Mutants and you may have a good idea of what to expect. Still, the combination of all these different elements make for a pretty interesting ride. Just don't be fooled by the poster art, even though Citadel may look like another film resembling the setup of The Raid, Dredd 3D or instigator La Horde, the poster art is where the resemblance ends.
Foy does add a couple touches of his own though. The depraved social setting may not be entirely novel (in fact, it seems one of the defining elements of many UK horror films) but Foy's decision to let his main character suffer from mental stress after the first assault is indeed quite surprising to see. Early on in the film Tommy sees his pregnant girlfriend Joanne being beaten up by a couple of hoodies. Unable to do something (he's stuck in the lift) he has to witness how his life is shattered before his eyes.
Even though the baby is saved, Joanna slips into a deep coma. Unable to deal with the senselessness of the violent act, Tommy starts to suffer from agoraphobia and ends up in the hospital where he is joins a program that should help him cure his mental illness. When he is finally released he has to take care of his newborn, but this responsibility only adds to Tommy's mental unrest. Things get even worse when soon after Joanna's original assailants return to get Tommy's baby.
The barren scenery asks for dark, gritty and grim cinematography and that's what we're getting here. The poor living conditions and deserted concrete cityscapes look almost as bad as what Tommy ends up finding in the "citadel". It's a great setting for a horror film and Foy makes perfect use of it. The lighting is moody, the camera work solid and the editing sharp. Overall Citadel offers a pretty great visual experience.
It's the soundtrack that really nails the atmosphere though. The gritty, almost illbient soundscapes lay out an uneasy blanket of noise, while the sound effects induce the true fear. The hoodies in particular sound gut-wrenching. Even though the film explains they are not "normal kids", the almost rabid-like baby screams they produce sounded so freakish and alien that they pushed me back far into my couch. Horror films always benefit greatly from an apt soundtrack, something that Foy understands quite well.
Another reason for the film's success is Aneurin Barnard's stand-out performance. Since the first part of the film relies on some dramatic sequences you need more than just your average horror cattle, luckily Barnard convincingly fills the part. While his Frodo-like appearance made me a little uneasy during the first few scenes of the film, Barnard's fear-ridden eyes actually made me feel bad for his ill-fated adventures. James Cosmo shines in the role of priest, the rest of the cast is solid but isn't tested that thoroughly.
Despite its many influences and connections to other horror films, Citadel sails a pretty surprising course. It doesn't really belong in a particular segment of the broader horror genre, featuring equal hints of occultism, zombie fare and vile social horror. While this mix alone makes for an interesting trip, it's Foy's accomplishment to successfully merge all these influences into a single solid horror experience, turning Citadel into a more than worthy genre film.
Foy is definitely one to watch. Citadel is one hell of a calling card and stands as one of the best horror films of 2012. It's a vile, gritty and hellish descent (or rise if you will) into a fear-inducing concrete structure, providing plenty of chills and uneasy moments that belong up there with the best the UK horror films have on offer. Let's hope it's the start of a bright career and the kick-off for a stream of more quality Irish horror films.