Citadel Explains Why Our Children Are Going to Kill Us All

Citadel Poster

Citadel Poster

Genre(s)Drama, Horror, Thriller
Director(s)Ciaran Foy
Release Year2012

Citadel caught my attention because of one simple reason: Ciaran Foy, the writer and director, took his previous experience with agoraphobia and used it to craft a chilling story about overcoming your fears. While not a unique concept to have a writer pull from personal experiences, the entire movie hinges on a character that has the inability to act when faced with a recurring situation. Because of this, the film both benefits and suffers. Walking the line between thriller and horror film for the first half of the movie, Citadel eventually spirals into full-blown horror, with all the problems that that usually entails. From deranged, atheist priests that see the horrors no one else does, to the infected, zombie-like creatures that haunt Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and prevent him from being able to move on with his life, the movie is filled with horror elements and dramatic beats which will both please and annoy fans of both genres.

It’s probably most helpful to first define agoraphobia, seeing as how the movie relies heavily on it. It’s a fear of being in places that have no apparent exit, usually resulting in a heightened state of anxiety or tremendous fear. The reason this is so crucial to Citadel is because the main character, Tommy, is inflicted with this fear after witnessing his pregnant wife be murdered by a group of thugs. She doesn’t survive, but the child she was carrying does, and so Tommy is left to  take care of his daughter Elsa, alone. Unfortunately for him, he has to take care of her while being constantly anxious and frightened. It also doesn’t help that the thugs that killed his wife, are infected children who sense those that are scared and kill them. Why doesn’t he just leave this town that is pretty barren to begin with? It doesn’t seem like anyone enjoys it there except for Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), the nurse that helps him after his wife’s death, so it can’t be because he likes the place. Instead, the reason (which surprisingly is even given, something I rarely expect to be addressed in a horror film) is that social services needs him to stay in the town for a little while and prove he can raise Elsa. I don’t know why he can’t just argue that it’s clearly not safe, but it is a movie, you’re required to suspend your disbelief somewhere, even if there are feral children killing random people and no one dealing with it.

I think the moral of the story here is: don't ride public transit.

I think the moral of the story here is: don’t ride public transit.

Citadel is fairly slow-moving and redundant for a little while, as it builds the atmosphere and continues making the infected children appear mysterious, while we plead for some answers. In comes our atheist priest (James Cosmo), who warns Tommy that the children will not stop harassing him and that he should skip town. Everyone thinks the priest is a nutcase, though, so no one pays him any mind. It turns out he’s the only one who makes any sense, and the final act of the film turns into the priest, a blind child, and Tommy searching the building where the children are coming from. That final act is where the most generic things happen in this movie, and when plot twists begin happening, you can’t help but laugh at their ridiculousness. It’s clearly a film where they knew they wanted to develop Tommy as a staple of agoraphobia, and knew where the movie needed to end, but had to throw in a bunch of supernatural and ridiculous motivations in order to get to the ending and be exciting.

Nonetheless, the acting is all really well done, especially from Barnard, who does an incredible job playing a frightened parent. James Cosmo has no choice but to feel ridiculous as a priest, and it’s the dialogue assigned to him that hurts him, not his acting. It really is Tommy that is the focus here, and his character acts in the expected way in such a situation, though I’m still not entirely sure why he wouldn’t just leave town. Because of how he acts, the camera feels like a part of the tension; as it shakes, the frantic actions of Tommy feel more personable, and rarely does Tommy’s character ever feel as absurd as the priest. He’s just staying on the sidelines, trying not to be bothered, and only stepping up to the plate when necessary. The children are also excellent physical manifestations of fear, so when Tommy needs to overcome his agoraphobia, they work as stepping stones to that ultimate goal.

There's also a blind kid that can see fear too. Helpful plot device, I guess.

There’s also a blind kid that can see fear too. Helpful plot device, I guess.

Because of this, Citadel is a tense first-time feature-length film from Ciaran Foy, but definitely feels like just that: a first-time effort. The script could use a lot more polish, specifically the character of the priest. That being said, Tommy is written beautifully, and the infected children come off creepy both on the page and on the screen. As a short film, this would have played more effectively in delivering a haunting atmosphere, and not needing the priest character to act as a catalyst to finish Tommy’s character arc. As it stands, the film plays as an alright thriller, but an excellent study into the psyche of someone inflicted with agoraphobia.


3 responses to “Citadel Explains Why Our Children Are Going to Kill Us All

  1. “Why doesn’t he just leave that place?” You live comfortably don’t you? Nice warm apartment or house in a safe part of town? Why doesn’t he just leave? And with what money will he leave? Should he just pick the money off of the money tree that grows in his back yard perhaps? And the money tree money can pay for the rented moveing truck, unless you think they should leave with just the clothes on their backs, not take any like food, or formula for the baby, changes of clothes, or perhaps they could use the money tree money to buy a car! there ya go! And they can take money from the money tree to start paying rent on the new apartment in the new city they move to. And the money tree money can pay for the food while he looking for work.

    “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.”

    ― Herman Melville

    • And seriously, it seems inconceivable to you that the gov. would make such a request of him? to stay in the area and prove he can raise the child. You’ve never had to deal with the gov. in any capacity other than to get your tax refund or pay your taxes have you? So in your experience the Gov. is perfectly reasonable and always makes sense? No wonder you can’t connect with this movie.

      • Thank you for the comments and reading the review. It is true, I am rarely ever in a capacity where the government asks me to do anything other than pay my taxes. So it is no wonder I cannot connect with a movie where a man is forced to live in a town and raise a child despite the crazy surroundings which other characters seem to acknowledge as dangerous. It is not a complaint with just this movie, it is a complaint with any horror film – characters are forced into situations that can be avoided if they so choose. How should he leave the town? That is up to Tommy, but he is a character who clearly cannot cope with his current situation and should do what he can to escape it. He could ask his nurse friend for help leaving, or steal a car, or any number of things that range in lawfulness. It is clear that the character should recognize that what the government is telling him to do endangers both his and the child’s safety. But once again, thank you for the comments, I’m happy to see more people watching what is an ultimately enjoyable thriller, with plenty of quirks to latch onto.

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