PLOT: After a young man’s pregnant wife is attacked, he finds that he must take care of his infant daughter after finding himself inflicted with a severe case of agoraphobia. When he finds that the attacks may not be an isolated incident he seeks the help of a sympathetic nurse and a disturbed priest.
Much of the horror explored in CITADEL – the feature film debut from writer/director Ciaran Foy – tells a very relevant story in modern society. In an impoverished section of Ireland, an expectant young mother is attacked while her husband watches helplessly thanks to a faulty elevator in a newly condemned building. This leaves the young man named Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) suffering from agoraphobia while still trying to raise a baby, all the while poverty stricken and terrified of the outside world. Such topics as social services questioning his ability to be a father and the simple issue of safety from dangerous elements are brought up in this quietly disturbing thriller.
There is a mounting tension that surrounds Tommy and his infant daughter. The traumatic experience suffered would be hard enough as dealing with a baby and being a new father is a difficult task as it is. Imagine living in fear and wondering if everybody knocking on your door has some violent and personal vendetta against you. It would be easy enough for those watching to dismiss the dad as weak and pathetic, in fact many times I found myself wishing he would just fight back when he needed too. However the nature of his condition would make it near impossible to even comprehend retaliation. In one scene early on we see Tommy going through therapy to try and overcome his fear. It is one of the most effective scenes in the film simply for the questions it raised. When someone is victimized is it because a predator can sense their fear and will feed on it?
Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard is the heart of this effective thriller. The terror he experiences is so fully realized that the movie works simply because of his performance. Some may find his weakened state throughout most of CITADEL a bit frustrating, especially with his debilitating condition, but for me it made it all the more nerve-wracking. While your sympathy for his character will depend on how you react to his agoraphobia, you can’t help but be taken into this grimy and bleak world because of him. This would be a challenge for any actor as he must carry a film which revolves around his desperate situation.
As Tommy finds that that his paranoia may be very real, he seeks the help a sweet and sympathetic nurse named Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), a seemingly insane priest (James Cosmo) as well as the Father’s blind son Danny (Jake Wilson). The small cast is a nice touch as the short feature doesn’t waste time on killing off unnecessary fodder. Even Tommy’s wife Joanne (Amy Shiels) carries enough of an emotional impact. CITADEL works as an exercise in thoughtfully and socially relevant horror that relies on character as opposed to blood and gore.
While CITADEL connects on so many levels, the last act delves a little too deep into your typical horror film. It still works well enough, yet it sort of negates the socially pertinent first half of the film. Thankfully however Foy creates such a claustrophobic world for his protagonist to live in and really captures the cold and bleak atmosphere, it worked well enough that you are invested in Tommy's plight. Even if it does raise a few questions that seem a little too black and white considering how strongly it began. If it hadn’t been for the impeccable work from Barnard, the entire story would not have had even close to the impact I was left in in that final act. Perhaps your connection with the film will be solely based on your own views of Tommy’s plight. Either way, praise must be given to Aneurin Barnard. This is his film and he gives one of the most compelling and powerful performances I’ve seen this year.