That’s the dilemma posed by the Irish horror import Citadel, where we meet Tommy (Aneurin Barnard), a young father afflicted with chronic agoraphobia after his pregnant wife is brutally attacked by a gang of hooded youths (children, to be exact). When the same gang starts terrorizing Tommy again, intent on kidnapping his baby daughter, he seeks help from a doubting yet sympathetic nurse (Wunmi Mosaku) and a vigilante priest (James Cosmo) to overcome his fear and destroy the gang for good.
Drawing from his own experience with agoraphobia following a violent mugging, Citadel’s first-time feature writer/director Ciaran Foy paints Tommy’s world as a bleak, grimy landscape of blues and greys (much like how Tommy views his life and his future). Foy does an effective job at balancing scares with cares, putting Tommy in the hands of Mosaku’s nurse just long enough to provide the viewer with a false sense of relief before throwing Tommy back into danger at the hands of the gang. (Also great: Foy’s use of Tommy’s old apartment number (111) and the recurring theme of threes.)
Looking and acting like Elijah Wood’s strung-out big brother, Barnard does a great job capturing the struggle of a new parent stricken with a crippling fear and topped with a coating of paranoia. Cosmo’s embattled priest, while quite the screen presence, is a somewhat uneven mishmash of profane wisdom, jarring frankness, and tough love. Also, his exposition explaining the origin of the feral children is muddled and dodges the obvious question: If this gang of children has been around for decades, wouldn’t there now be a few adults in the group?
Winner of the Midnighters Audience Award at the 2012 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, Citadel is nearly everything a horror film should be – “nearly” because of the third act, a showdown in the abandoned apartment tower where Tommy and his wife lived when she was attacked. This finale plays like a haunted-house action sequence and betrays the creepy, atmospheric tone Foy set in the first hour. The film also ends somewhat abruptly: one side wins, and almost immediately the credits roll.
As good as Citadel is, a word of warning to anyone who’s an expectant father, a single dad, or a parent of an infant: Before you know it, you’ll soon be wondering if you would have what it takes if faced with the same terrors as Tommy.
Is it suitable for your kids?Absolutely not. In the opening scene, Tommy’s wife is viciously attacked by the gang; Tommy’s emotional breakdowns are harrowing to watch (though he’s oddly emotionless when taking his wife off life support); the hooded children are truly scary: they attack and kill several people, complete with graphic noises and bloodshed, either in shadows or off screen; Tommy’s baby daughter is put in peril in several scenes; one of the hooded children’s throats is slit, complete with spraying blood; there are many profanities.
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?With a pregnant mother beaten to death in the opening scene, a gang of mutated killer children, and the ongoing threat of a baby girl being stolen by the gang, I can’t see too many mothers who would be willing to sit through Citadel.
* Director: Ciaran Foy
* Screenwriter: Ciaran Foy
* Stars: Aneurin Barnard, Wunmi Mosaku, James Cosmo, Jake Wilson, Amy Shiels
* MPAA Rating: R
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