I was really looking forward to seeing the Irish film Citadel at Toronto After Dark, for it looked like the title most likely to bring the scares this year.
After his wife is fatally beaten by a gang of hooded assailants, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) holes up in his tower block apartment with his newborn daughter, afraid to venture outside. After making strides towards recovery, the same assailants return to take his child.
Citadel is a solid entry into the burgeoning horror sub-genre of “hoodie horror”. It sets a dark and gloomy tone early on, building a gripping sense of dread as the movie progresses. Channelling the trauma of being attacked by a gang of hooligans in real life, director Ciaran Foy depicts fear as a tangible thing with an almost physical presence. It works well and, along with the stark visuals, really adds to the overall atmosphere of the piece.
The simple framework of Citadel is further helped by Barnard as Tommy. He spends most of the film almost paralyzed by his agoraphobia and it is only when the last thing he has in the world is threatened that he finally takes action. Foy is smart to let his protagonist anchor the film and never lets his story stray too far from him. Sure, he has some help along the way from Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), a nurse at the hospital and a cantankerous priest (James Cosmo), but this is ultimately Tommy’s battle to win.
Mainly, I think I was just happy to finally see some effective antagonists again. By effective, I, of course, mean corporeal and not generated by a computer. Following After (and the atrocious Grave Encounters 2 which I viewed earlier that day) it just reinforced the fact that there is just no comparison between practical and digital. Citadel only used visual effects when they absolutely had to and I, as a result, was never taken out of the story. Hopefully someday all horror filmmakers will realize that CG is not scary and figure out how to use it a supplement and not a replacement.
Something I did find strange about Citadel was how few people were actually in it. Apart from the main characters, the town was almost as deserted as the one in After. I get that there was a “regeneration” project going on in that neighbourhood, but the local hospital was still operating, with almost nary a patient in sight. I assume it was an aesthetic choice to further ramp up Tommy’s sense of helplessness, but to me it just made the universe seem a little less real. I felt the movie wrapped up a little too quickly as well, but better too little than too much I suppose.
When it comes to this sub-genre, the French film Ils is still tops for me, but Citadel remains a well-made and effective thriller that preys on our most primal instincts.