Another week, another horror release. Isn’t that the way it seems these days? Why, every time you turn around, some production company is throwing good money into some low-budget, no-budget scare-fest, all to make a buck. I welcome the additions to my film library only so long as these pictures still come assembled with a coherent story, reasonably intelligent characters (a tough find in horror), and modest quality writing. No, horror movies don’t have to be perfect. They simply need establish a premise and then deliver on any promises made along the way.
To that end, CITADEL settles comfortably into a middle-ground and goes nowhere fast. Yes, it’s atmospheric. Sure, it’s creepy. Okay, it looks so dystopian.
But is that all ya got?
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Tommy (played by Aneurin Barnard) enjoys a quiet existence with his pregnant wife in a massive apartment complex on the edge of town. Little do they know, but their CITADEL is actually some hunting grounds for a pack of ravenous children. A sudden attack leaves his wife permanently in a coma, and Tommy – left to raise their child on his own – is stricken with a case of agoraphobia. Nine months later, the gang returns and takes the man’s child. Can he face his fears and join forces with an area priest (James Cosmo) to take back the child? And what secret is the old man hiding?
This is one of those times when I know I’ll take a few on the chin from folks who disagree, but, if anything, I gotta be me; I found much of the CITADEL a disappointment. I can appreciate some quality scares as much as the next person. Where I differ (I believe) is that I want them delivered in a package that makes sense. Otherwise, I find the story and their resulting scares to be less than authentic. There were parts of the film that felt heavily truncated to me, such as why was Tommy so shaken up by his wife’s attack that he developed agoraphobia? He seemed perfectly normal before the attack – he gets on elevators, he goes indoors and outdoors by himself, he came across as perfectly well-adjusted as anyone could be in those few moments of peace – so his transformation (while an impressive bit of acting) just felt hollow.
Furthermore, if (as we’re told) these ‘creatures’ are the result of some shenanigans done years ago by the resident member of the clergy, why did they take so long to prey on Tommy and his defenseless wife? Where were they before? What caused them to migrate to this particular building complex? And why did they give Tommy nine months off? I get that the place was, essentially, condemned and void of residents, but why did Tommy and his wife decide to stay in this urban wasteland entirely alone? And, if they were truly entirely alone, why was Tommy crying out for help when he discovered his wife was attacked? We were never shown any other person around – not in the building, not on the streets, etc. – so what WAS this place, really?
And, as long as I’m in classic harp mode, just what ARE these hooded gang/children? Clearly, they have some attachment to drugs (they’re often seem with syringes), but, since the neighborhood is all but deserted, just who is selling to them? Part man, part creature, part cannibal, part addict … and part nonsense! The audience is given some vague explanation of their origins by the Priest (actually, he gives two different versions, but I won’t spoil it), yet Cosmo’s line delivery is so awful I’ll have to admit to listening to it three times and I still couldn’t quite understand him. As I’ve had to say in reviews before, I have no problem watching foreign films, but I’d sure appreciate that producers include English subtitles because, as an American, I’ll admit that I’m occasionally confused by accents. Cosmo delivers every speech as though he has a mouthful of Krispy Kremes, and this only adds to the confusion.
Still, Barnard gets some solid marks for doing what he could with the lackluster script. His struggle with an incapacitating agoraphobia is impressive. In fact, that’s the only plotline of the film that gets carried through with solid development, though I still don’t quite get how he developed it so quickly as a consequence of his wife being attacked. Color me naïve.
CITADEL is produced by Blinder Films, Irish Film Board, Flatiron Film Company, and Sigma Films. DVD distribution is being handled through New Video. As for the technical specifications, the film looks pretty solid – much of it is shot in dark settings and enclosed spaces (to enhance the agoraphobia) – but there were some issues with the sound – the opening is very sparse, but halfway through the levels suddenly jumped way up. (This may’ve been the result of some post-production tinkering.) The disk comes with a few special features – a ‘making of’ short, cast and crew interviews, and some discarded B roll footage – nothing all that grand, but it’s nice to have something.
MILDLY RECOMMENDED. It isn’t that I disliked CITADEL because, in fairness, I didn’t. What I found curious was the fact that there was so little to it – so little explanation for the development of our lead’s condition; so little scientific explanation for where these ‘creatures’ came from; so little character information available on almost everyone in the story – that I found it hard to sink my teeth into, unlike these cannibal/children/druggie/half-breed children. And, on that note, just what WERE they? When you have a monster, is it too much to ask that its creation make a little sense?
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at New Video provided me with an advance DVD screener of CITADEL for the expressed purposes of completing this review.