A solid central turn from Aneurin Barnard aside, Ciaran Foy’s debut feature Citadel (2012) fails to impress as a hoodie horror with delusions of grandeur. Living in a tower block set against a landscape of social degeneration, happily married Tommy (Barnard) is expecting his first child with wife Joanne (Amy Shiels). Within mere minutes, we see this cheerful couple’s lives destroyed as Tommy’s pregnant wife is attacked by three hooded figures that stab her in the stomach with a syringe, our protagonist looking on helplessly. This unspeakable act forces Joanne into early childbirth before she falls into a coma.
This traumatic event leaves Tommy with a chronic case of agoraphobia, only exacerbated further by the reappearance of the same malevolent youths. Over-emphasising the dark and desolate surroundings of council estate life, building to which the title refers looms ominously over everything, surrounded by snow-covered streets in an area known as Edenstown (irony box ticked). Inside dwell the offspring of drug-addled, Reebok-wearing mutants that shuffle around sniffing the air, attracted – apparently – by the smell of fear. This is, of course, a serious problem for poor unhinged Tommy, now a perpetual wreck barely able to open his own front door, let alone look after his young daughter.
The story unfolds at a surprisingly slow-pace for a relatively short feature, ticking all the boxes but always failing to properly engage. To the credit of Barnard, there’s not a single scene where he doesn’t have to hold focus, and he manages to convey the unbroken catatonic fear his character possesses to brilliant effect. Yet, a performance is only as strong as the story it inhabits, and Citadel narrative is extremely weak and dreadfully derivative. Foy is obviously working to a minimal budget and has clearly put every effort into creating a foreboding atmosphere – if, unfortunately, never achieving one.
Sadly, there are no jump-out-of-your-seat moments to be found in the whole of Citadel. What’s more, the feral creatures that stalk Tommy are very much your standard, faceless ghoul, and one can’t help but think that this enforces the common belief that everyone who dresses in such a manner is evil to the care (cue ‘Broken’ Britain rhetoric). For all its condemning flaws, the focal parent/child dynamic hints at something truly intriguing, before disappointingly failing to materialise. Signs of promise, perhaps, but it isn’t budgetary constraints holding Foy back – it’s directorial nous.