October 19, 2012
Aneurin Barnard as Tommy
James Cosmo as Priest
Wunmi Mosaku as Marie
Jake Wilson as Danny
Amy Shiels as Joanne
Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) is agoraphobic (fearing the outside world), and really, it’s hard to blame him. Nine months prior, his very pregnant wife Joanne (Amy Shiels) was brutally attacked in the hallway of a tower block by a band of bizarre, violent, not-quite-human children while he was trapped watching the assault in an elevator whose door wouldn’t open. She was left comatose (and later taken off life support to die), but her unborn daughter survived and is now being cared for by him. Over time, Tommy’s managed to slowly beat the agoraphobia back with therapy and the help and support of a kindly Hospice nurse named Marie (Wunmi Mosaku) to the point where he’s ready to hop a bus out of town and attempt to start fresh. However, the night he misses his bus, he begins to notice the children seem to be showing up at his house. At first, their assaults are quiet… but grow to full-on breaking and entering. After one invasion, he discovers they’ve targeted his baby’s crib and deduces they won’t be finished terrorizing him until they’ve taken his daughter too. When Marie doesn’t believe him and downplays the threat, he finds his only allies might be an unorthodox priest (James Cosmo) who seems to have an in-depth knowledge of the children and a plan to destroy them and the tower block from Tommy’s past they now call home once and for all and the strange blind child, Danny (Jake Wilson), who somehow seems to be able to see Tommy all too well.
Did I miss a memo? Evidently, 2012 is the year of “fighting your way through a tower block” movies. The Raid: Redemption is the martial arts version, Dredd is the action version, and Ciaran Foy’s Irish horror/thriller film Citadel’s last half/climax is the horror version. That’s not a bad thing necessarily… all three are very different and good movies (first two are fantastic, actually). But, come on, this is getting a little ridiculous.
In all seriousness, though, Citadel works because of the kind of movie it is: a bit of a slow burn. Because of this, after the excellent opening attack scene, the focus is on Tommy’s mental state and how he reacts to the world around him. Aneurin Barnard is fantastic in the role, believably conveying a man quite literally terrified of the world around him. His fear then becomes the audience’s fear and, alongside the movie’s good use of reflections and background glimpses, helps to increase the forboding and tension of the final product as the children’s attacks become more and more violent. Tommy is also an incredibly likable character because of just how devoted he is to his daughter even though his agoraphobia and panic in response to the situation make his life an extraordinary challenge. He is, therefore, extremely easy to root for in his battle against the legitimately freaky and scary children.
It’s entirely possible, though, for a movie of this sort to fail if the other members of the “siege team” aren’t as strong. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here. James Cosmo is wonderfully brash, over-the-top, and even a little darkly comic as the Priest. While the children are NOT zombies, the kind of performance Cosmo gives makes it easy to think of him on a zombie slaying team during a zombie apocalypse (I mean that as a compliment). He has a tendency to come across a bit too mean or unsympathetic to Tommy’s overall situation… but at the same time also seems to be exactly what Tommy needs in the end because of that. As for the character of Danny, Jake Wilson nails down a good blend of creepiness and child-like innocence. His character arc also works very well (if a bit predictably) as a counterpoint to Tommy’s character arc.
That slight predictability, however, is one of a series of things that holds the still quite good movie back from greatness. For one, Wunmi Mosaku’s character Marie is a good person and a likable character… but is also irredeemably and unforgivably stupid for the sake of the plot. Secondly, while the slow-burn style of the movie mostly works, it does feel like the burn is a touch TOO slow. Cutting five minutes or so from the buildup somewhere might’ve helped. Finally, while the advance screening where I saw this seemed to have the speakers set way too loud for the movie (and also at first played off a skipping DVD… very little was missed, though, so this review isn’t compromised by it), I have a sneaking suspicion that the loud noises and particularly the crying of Tommy’s daughter would still have been annoying over time even at appropriate levels. I’m not supposed to start to want the children to take her.
Overall, though, the stupidity of one character, irritating early sound design, and slightly-too-long length don’t stop Citadel from being a good, intense, creepy movie. It effectively blends standard horror movie plot points like violent, not-quite-human creatures and home invasion with outstanding acting from the believably agoraphobic Tommy and the rest of the siege team. It’s well-worth a look. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write down my idea for the next great romantic comedy. I’m thinking something about a guy dating his way up a high-rise tower to the penthouse only to discover his true love was living next door to him on the ground floor the whole time…
(If that movie ever gets made by someone, you had better believe I want a royalty check.)