Citadel (2012)

NOVEMBER 17, 2012


Making a horror movie that's a metaphor used to be pretty common; the 50s giant monster movies were playing on fears of the new nuclear technology, many 70s horror films were responses to Vietnam or the recession, and pretty much any classic zombie film is a comment on SOMETHING. But that's rare these days; even the zombie films of late tend to be pretty empty-headed and direct, so it's nice to see Citadel make baby steps back into that direction, as the movie is more about the fears of being a new father more than it is a straight horror movie.

However, it's not exactly a metaphor - it's closer to the actual plot. While one can just look at his single dad issues as another obstacle for him to overcome, it seems pretty obvious that director Ciaran Foy is much more interested in hero Tommy's struggles with his infant than he is having him face/fight the pint-sized demons that attacked his wife while she was still pregnant (she remained in a coma for months after giving birth, eventually dying). You just need to use your imagination a bit - the demons are all kidnapped children that were "changed", and of course any parent feels like a failure if their child is taken, so it's all about him making sure he's a better parent than those others. It's just, instead of worrying that the kid isn't being fed properly or given proper upraising to be able to measure up to the other kids when he goes to school, he has to worry that his kid will be a demon.

It's a pretty original concept, one that mostly works like gangbusters. It's rare to have a male as the lead in a horror film (especially one about parenting), and it's even rarer that one is as sympathetic as Tommy is here. Foy wastes no time in setting up his plight; the mother is attacked in the opening moments, and quickly establishes the fallout - in addition to now having to raise the child alone, Tommy has become agoraphobic as a result, and (in a plot point that was slightly muddled) he now lives in an isolated part of town as the result of some urban redevelopment program, one where the bus doesn't stop after a certain time of day and the cops don't come at all. In short, his life is shit and kind of scary even without the little demons terrorizing him.

Since they're all wearing hoodies to hide their faces, it's actually kind of similar to Them (Ils) at times, especially during the centerpiece home invasion scene where he has to barricade himself in the bathroom. Foy wisely never lets the film get too bogged down in their motivations or an explanation for their powers, and does so in a way that doesn't feel like he's saving stuff for a sequel (a common problem in modern horror, and films in general, in this "trilogy" obsessed landscape). He DOES, however, seem to be holding back on the priest character (simply named Priest, or Father), who plans to destroy the demons and the building that they congregate in, aided by a young boy who may be a reformed demon himself. I could have watched a whole movie about these two, but Foy sidelines them for most of the narrative, to the extent where I was sure that the film's reported 85 minute runtime must have been an error, because it was over an hour in by the time Tommy joined up with them.

Indeed, if I had one issue with the film it would be this wonky pacing. The first hour works fine, but it seems like there should be a full second hour to come after it, rather than 25 minutes with credits. A major character's fate is left somewhat ambiguous (we are told this person is dead, but neither Tommy or us ever get close enough to confirm that, and they are attacked in the same manner Tommy is TWICE in the film and he didn't die), and the "main event", as it were, plays out in one long shot (with bad CGI), robbing us of the full impact of the heroes' actions. It also has a pet peeve of mine in movies, when a character sacrifices themselves for the greater good but the way it's all staged, it seems like they could have easily gotten away as well. It's not as bad as, say, Lost, when Charlie had plenty of time to just go on the other side of the door with Desmond and then TELL HIM "Not Penny's Boat", but it still felt a bit like the character was choosing certain death over the mere possibility.

But there was so much to like, it didn't bother me much, and it's hardly the worst thing in the world where one of the biggest complaints is that I wanted it to be longer. Sure, it might making writing a review hard, because most of the exciting/interesting things to talk about occur in its second half and are thus too spoiler-y to discuss (something I try to avoid for original theatrical releases, especially those in limited release) - one could even accuse the movie of being too simplistic. But to me that was sort of a plus; again, too many movies nowadays are concerned with establishing a big mythology and paving the way for sequels without finding out if we the audience give a shit enough about the world/story to WANT another one. Thus, it's refreshing to see one that's stripped down to the essentials, putting character first and striking a fine balance between horror movie elements and real life terror - it's rare that I've seen agoraphobia handled so well on-screen, or at least in a way that got me to feel terrified along with him (meaning it might not be clinically accurate - I don't know enough about it). And yes, I would watch a sequel (or a prequel about Priest!).

What say you?


  1. You will see these martyr themes come up a lot in European horror films. Europeans are still influenced a lot by Christianity and Catholicism. It is almost always a male who sacrifices himself for the betterment of the group, much like Jesus did thousands of years ago.

    The Day is similar with one male character sacrificing himself to save a female character. I guess this is why there are so man "last girl(s)" in horror films and few "last guy(s)."

  2. I also really enjoyed this film, but hadn't considered how big a motif the single-Dad anxiety is - good call.
    One of the reasons the agoraphobia is so well done is that Foy himself suffered from it after surviving a random gang attack. I talk a little bit about it here:

  3. I can't say I fully agree on your opinion that it's rare to have a current fear played on in modern horror films. I heard to you ragging on British horror films before and as you wrote this article I was imediately thinking about 28 Days Later.
    So I was pleasently suprised when it turned out to be a British film. I think it's sometimes just a little tricky for Americans to get British themes and moral panics but children, violence and passers by doing nothing are quite big things at the moment. I personally hate these close to home themes.
    Michael I'd have to disagree with you, religion in Britain is dead and Catholicism is really a non starter. Way bigger in the States.


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