Being fortunate enough to live in a major metropolitan city like Toronto, the local filmgoer gets exposed to a wide variety of different films from across the globe. Opening this weekend exclusively at the Cineplex Yonge & Dundas before it rolls out across the country is Citadel, a psychological thriller that deals with the intense and personal fear that agoraphobia can have on an individual.
Citadel takes us to the rundown suburban sprawl of Scotland where after witnessing a horrible attack on his wife that took her life, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) is now a single father who ia dealing with a crippling case of agoraphobia. Determined to move on and start fresh, circumstances deem that he can’t as he has the overwhelming feeling that the feral children who have infected this dead community are now after him and his newborn daughter. Faced with his debilitating fear and torn between the help of a compassionate nurse and a vigilante priest, Tommy sets out to learn the nightmarish truth surrounding these hooded children. He also discovers that to be free of his fears, he must finally face the demons of his past and enter the one place that he fears the most; the abandoned tower block where his fears were born.
The lesson that is given to writers is simply “Write what you know” and for his debut feature, Ciaran Foy mined directly from his own experiences with agoraphobia after he was violently mugged by a group of youths in his early 20s. Citadel is a true psychological horror and is more a film crafted around the inherent vibe of terror facing its characters, letting the audiences imagination do the rest. Foy masterfully used low budget to his advantage, as low light, shadows and a well placed sound effect are just as effective as any flashy jump scare that the Hollywood machine can create. In addition to some surprisingly powerful visuals, Foy dives in to his own psyche and experiences, maximizing the outright terror that Tommy is feeling. The story does this so well that at times you truly do question what is actually happening and what isn’t, and with the added psychological stresses of being a first time single parent that are so convincingly portrayed by Aneurin Barnard, the audience will be riding the edge of their seats for the entire film.
With the exception of a small part in the 13th century English epic Ironclad; Barnard is mostly unknown to North American audiences. As Tommy, he kept all of his paranoia and concerns bottled up and wore the stress and pain of his character in his world weary eyes and face rather than relying on any over the top histrionics. Playing it with a quiet and subtle dignity, he roped the audience in making for an emotional performance that was incredibly rewarding. Most fans will recognize veteran character actor James Cosmo from his recurring role on the HBO hit Game of Thrones, but his manic and unbalanced priest was a great counterbalance for Barnard to play off and pull the Tommy character out of his emotional spiral as the film progressed.
Rather than hit you over the head with how scary it is, or is supposed to be, Citadel instead lets it all simmer to a slow boil wrapping you up in things that are not only the most relatable, but also the scariest. I defy anyone to tell me that under the right circumstances a dark and abandoned apartment building is scarier than any found footage or CGI creation that Hollywood can dream up.
Cast: Aneurin Barnard, James Cosmo
Directed by: Ciaran Foy
Top image: A scene from Citadel. Courtesy Mongrel Media.