The film begins with a young couple getting ready to leave a dilapidated council estate called Edenstown. The young man, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard), leaves his pregnant wife by their apartment. Getting into the elevator, he sees a trio of menacing-looking young hoodies approach the woman. Tommy tries desperately to get out of the elevator, but like everything else in Edenstown, it malfunctions, and by the time he gets back to his wife, she has been brutally attacked, her pregnant belly stabbed with a grungy syringe. He gets her to the hospital. A nurse hands him his newborn baby, but, by the time the opening credits roll, we're not quite sure what happened to his wife.
"Citadel," written and directed with absolute severity by Irish filmmaker Ciarán Foy, is punctuated by some extremely unsettling moments. Anyone who has walked down a dodgy, poorly-lit alleyway will get the heebie-jeebies, and these really terrifying moments are brilliantly staged – all flashes of light, skittering hoods, and bursts of blood. You see just enough to be profoundly disturbed. The urban landscape that Foy has created, which is nearly apocalyptic (to the point where you wonder if this takes place in the dystopian future), brings to mind the early works of John Carpenter (or that other SXSW entry, "The Raid: Redemption"). Even without the murderous gangs, the environment is menacing enough to want to escape.
The problem with "Citadel" is that, as it goes along, it gets bogged down in unnecessary mythology that tips things from realistic social fears to outrageous supernaturalism. Instead of merely ill-tempered kids, it turns out that the hoodies are some kind of monstrous, inbred offspring. The apartment building where they live isn't just rundown, it's infested with some kind of weird moss that the hoodie-monsters lick (for some reason). And it turns out the priest wasn't just being metaphoric – they can actually sense fear, psychically. Or something. And this isn't just an issue from a plot standpoint, but it mucks up the already thorny politics of the movie.
In the end, "Citadel" makes you feel too lousy to really work as a cathartic horror experience, and its icky politics keep it from being anything more than a late night curio. Had the movie been more focused, stripping away all the supernatural gobbledygook so that you could instead get some sharp social barbs in there, then it could have been something really special. True, there are some moments that will make you jump out of your seat and throw your popcorn at the woman sitting in front of you, but it isn't enough to get over the fact that "Citadel" says, of the so-called "Broken Britain," just blow it up and start over, lower class children be damned. Even by horror's admittedly cynical standards, that's pretty bleak. [C-]
This is a reprint of our review from SXSW.