My best personal example is season 4 of Dexter: a little over a week before the DVDs came out (don’t watch on cable, had to wait) I was flipping through Facebook and glanced at a headline that teased an interview with a character and a reference to that character dying in the finale’. As it turned out, not knowing that information would have greatly improved watching that season and especially the last episode. So I’m pretty sensitive to that issue and how it can ruin things. I’m going on about all of this because I learned some about the background of filmmaker Ciaran Foy and his process of writing and making Citadel before seeing the film. I won’t ever know what impression I would have had of the film had I not known that information about Foy. I am being cryptic because I feel it is important for every person to make their own decision about this – to know or not to know. I figure this is fair warning – I’ll mention it later on.
To start, I absolutely loved Citadel. It is a simple story about a grief-stricken new father having to deal with his growing fear of the outside world as a product of a terrible, violent attack that took his wife from him. One moment, his life is in front of him, his wife is pregnant and they are in the process of moving out a run down housing building to something better. The next moment, he watches helplessly from a broken elevator as mysterious hooded figures set upon and attack his wife, leaving her bloodied and battered. The story fast forwards a bit of time and we see Tommy struggling with being the single father of a small baby with his wife in a coma, all the while trying to and failing to combat his crippling fears and growing paranoia.
Ciaran Foy suffered a similar situation in his real life – having survived a brutal attack and then having to learn how to deal with his emotional limitations stemming from that attack and learn how to life and function in the world. It is profoundly touching to listen to people talk about Foy’s journey through this and to have him reference it in interview pieces or in the ‘making-of’ on the DVD. I was quite moved by this and know my reaction to his past reality shapes my opinion of the film.
That said, the film is quite effective at being creepy, nervy and is an all together melancholy story that balances tension with inner battle all played through the main character Tommy’s (Aneurin Barnard – a damned brilliant performance) eyes. As he feels fear and anxiety, so do we and the investment that is asked of the viewer is matched dollar for dollar as the safety of his child and his own are threatened by these hooded menace.
The film looks beautiful too – the art direction and overall feel of this world are stark and muted at the same time. They never go into detailed reasons or back story as to what these hooded ‘children’ really are or anything like that and we are instead just plunked into the middle of a ‘it just is’ type of story. I’ve noted before, I think this a great choice in film and in Citadel, it only adds to the creep factor. Understanding some grand motivation or some greater purpose allows us to understand a monster or killer better – if something is for no other reason than it just is, it makes it that much more unnerving.
There is a subplot with a priest character and also a child who only temporarily was part of the ‘hooded group’ which adds some color to the story and a sad, sad relationship with Tommy and a social worker that, despite her interests, goes nowhere. These small touches (along with a therapy group Tommy is a part of) bring a level of humanity to the story and motivate Tommy to move toward fighting against his fears in different ways. In the end, it is survival, sadness and fear personified in a life or death struggle with something one cannot fully understand in the confines of good versus evil. Citadel is a powerful, dark and emotional film that exceeded expectations ten fold.