I just got finished watching this charming little picture from across the pond in Ireland.
It had everything you’d want in a feel-good movie. It had roaming packs of mutant, demonic, baseball-bat carrying (well, this is the U.K., so it was probably cricket bats) pre-teens that sense fear and viciously beat down all that act afraid in their presence. It also had the beautifully-bleak backdrop of Glasgow, Scotland - complete with abandoned houses and the skeleton-like carcasses of wrecked cars. I’ll make a quick sidenote that even though “Citadel” was filmed in Glasgow, it actually took place in a small, suburban area called Edenstown. It had a cowardly, agoraphobic protagonist who ended up being unable to protect any of his loved ones during several violent altercations. It had a foul-mouthed clergyman who’d rather punch you then bless you. Oh, it had it all.
“What’s this movie called that sounds so wholesome and family-friendly,” you might ask. Well, it’s simply entitled “Citadel.”
It’s a good thing, for the makers of “Citadel” - which was released in 2012 overseas and is just getting a DVD release in the U.S – that I happen to hate wholesome, family friendly films and that all of the items I listed above turn a film into (keeping with the U.K. theme) my cup of tea.
Now, even though the premise of “Citadel” does have all of those interesting aspects to it, does it arrange them into something watchable? For the first hour of the movie, I’d say hell yes.
Not so much for the last half hour.
It seems that so many horror movies turn out this way, nowadays. You have a tense, slow burn (I know, it’s an overused buzz word), you get immersed in the plot, then… BAM… they can’t figure out how to end it. “Citadel” is no different.
It follows the story of a young Scottish man with bulging eyes and shaggy, messed-up hair named Tommy played by Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard. See, Tommy and his pregnant, ginger-haired wife Joanne (played by Amy Shiels) live in the bowels of a dilapidated project building. Think “Attack the Block,” only shittier. They seem to be in the process of moving out, when Tommy witnesses Joanne getting attacked by a gaggle of hoodlums in hoodies. Tommy, being stuck in the elevator at the time (as this area of town seems to be prone to hourly “blackouts” – how conve-e-e-nient), can’t save Joanne from the attack. The baby delivery turns out okay, however, Joanne is now in a coma – due to the fact she was eventually found by Tommy with a syringe sticking out of her unconscious body. I guess that was the filmmaker’s way of slipping in an anti-drug message, or is there a deeper meaning behind it?
That’s the problem with “Citadel,” there are so many themes, hidden meanings, and subtext thrown into the movie, you’re not sure if you’re supposed to take what Tommy sees at face value or chock it up to how traumatized and riddled with guilt he feels. The film is supposed to have come from a true-to-life experience that writer and first-time feature film director Ciaran Foy had. Therefore, it probably had better intentions than most horror films, but it was still all over the place.
On the technical side, it’s extremely well done. There are some shots in the film that literally had me shuddering and flinching. It has an eerie and creepy quality to it. It’s unsettling, which if I’m not mistaken, is another new buzz word that critics like to use when describing horror films these days. During certain scenes, I found myself squirming in my seat and turning the volume down to watch this film (something I like to do to make a film less scary, since sound is a big part of a horror flick) – again, at least for the first hour or so.
Back to the plotline…
Eventually, Joanne dies from an “unknown infection” (another hidden message? – you tell me man, I only work here) and Tommy has to fend for himself as a new Dad. This is the point in the film where everything just works and really takes off. It becomes a study in paranoid delusions and crippling fear. Barnard’s portrayal of Tommy and his inability to cope with the everyday responsibilities of being a single-parent, coupled with his failures at getting his newborn daughter Elsa out of the ghetto, is nothing short of brilliant. By the way, this film should never be used by the tourism board of Scotland at any juncture – as the city looks like an apocalyptic war zone or hell, take your pick. Tommy just can’t seem to get it right.
Then the hooded kids show back up to terrorize him and, as he learns from the perpetually-angry clergyman named Priest (yes, just Priest), played by Scottish character actor James Cosmo and his angry beard, plan to “come back” and steal his baby girl away from him.
Note to “Citadel” – this is where you lost me.
It’s all downhill from here, as it turns into standard horror flick fare. It has the obligatory love interest for Tommy, which goes nowhere. In this case, since his wife is dead, it comes from a nurse from the hospital where Tommy seems to spend most of his time – that is when he’s not locking himself in the bathroom with Elsa because he’s petrified of the world around him… and pre-teens with hooded sweatshirts. It has the grizzled old priest character (I still can’t believe he’s just named Priest) who knows what’s going on, but has a secret that he’s not sharing – which, by the way, you’ll see coming a mile away. It also features a blind kid by the name of Danny (played by Jake Wilson) with a religious, martyr-like quality to him, that is always by Priest’s side, who surprisingly (well, not really to a horror vet like me) can “see” Tommy. Well, he can see Tommy’s “fear,” but I dare not tackle this ridiculous part of the plot right now.
As for the hooded hoodlums, I must say, they make for some scary villains. Granted, they’re not your everyday latchkey kids with a lack of role models – there’s something weird about them. “Did you see their faces,” Priest (PRIEST!!!) asks after Tommy comes to seek his advice on what to do about his angry teen dilemma. Well, when you finally do see their faces – they make the creature kids from “Heartless” (another U.K. horror flick starring Jim Sturgess, that this film is very similar too) look like boy scouts. They are genuinely freaky-looking things – and they kidnap kids and eat human flesh! Again, not your typical attention-seeking, starving-for-love, bad seeds.
The ending, while I won’t give it away (I ain’t no spoiler) just feels empty and cliché. It’s almost like Foy had “Good Will Hunting” syndrome. You know what I’m talking about. It’s when filmmakers start a movie one way and go in a completely different direction by the end. I’ll bet Foy wanted to make a heartfelt film about how to deal with tragedy and didn’t know how to end it – so he turned it into a horror film, added a predictable ending, and packaged it as “Citadel.”
Overall, I’m not upset that Foy turned this into a horror film. I’m just upset that he quit caring about the original premise two-thirds of the way in.