Directed by Ciarán Foy
Citadel should have been one of the clear standouts of the Midnighters section of SXSW this year, but regrettably, it’s somewhat of a disappointment. Although it won top honors at the festival which should help with distribution, Ciaran Foy’s creepy kid movie fails to live up to its potential.
The setup is there: A wrecked, victimized man musters the courage to confront a group of tameless youths after they kidnap his baby and leave his wife comatosed. Aneurin Barnard plays Tommy, an agoraphobic whiner that reluctantly befriends a deranged Priest (James Cosmo) hellbent on burning the dilapidated tower block housing these demon children.
The chase scenes and attacks throughout the film are filled with tension, and a real sense of dread fills the screen as Tommy is hounded down empty streets, doomed to play the victim in a neighborhood where the cops don’t come when you cry for help. As the hooded hellions are slowly revealed in quick shots, they don’t even appear to be human. Almost animal-like, they represent the undesirables in a community determined to ignore them and eventually eradicate them completely before the neighborhood goes to hell for good. It’s subtle social commentary that works.
Once Tommy and Priest infiltrate the citadel to rescue his child from the clutches of rabid tweeners, the film takes off and is suddenly about something. The majority of Citadel should have taken place here, with new scares and obstacles at every turn, allowing our emotionally damaged protagonist to turn the confrontation into catharsis. Then, and only then, would he be fully equipped to be the kind of father his baby needs as she grows up in a tough environment.
Instead, Tommy is reduced to one of the most frustrating characters I’ve seen in quite some time. He’s a sniveling, pathetic, scaredy-cat that can hardly leave his home without assistance. Remember, his wife was the one who was attacked at the beginning of the film. Not him. Surely, watching helplessly as your loved one is beaten and stabbed with syringes is not something easily dealt with, but the extent to which this man is broken makes him entirely unrelatable. Needing to be slapped silly, Tommy cries and crawls his way through Citadel until he’s practically forced into action. The ending seems like something he’s been pushed into instead of a willing acceptance of his fate, which robs him of his strength making it all the more difficult to root for him in the final stretch of the film.
The structure was in place for Citadel to rise above its tendencies towards melodrama, a trope evident in Tommy’s constant coddling, but the triumphant finish doesn’t wipe away the questionable handling of its main character and his interactions with the crumbling world around him. The blueprint is there, but Citadel might have benefited from a different architect.
2 out of 5