Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fatherly Fear: CITADEL

In the opening scene of Ciaran Foy’s Citadel, we meet a young couple who have happiness that is destined to be short-lived. Their rundown apartment building’s malfunctioning elevator and its convenient window creates a situation in which the young man (Aneurin Barnard) looks on helplessly as his pregnant wife (Amy Shiels) is attacked by a group of hooded teenagers. This opens the film with a scary, well executed, if a bit predictably staged, piece of horror filmmaking. The movie skips ahead nine months to find the poor man struggling to raise his baby alone, while his wife remains comatose in the hospital. Foy’s shaky handheld camera captures a paranoid subjectivity as we learn that the man has developed a severe case of agoraphobia. He is barely able to ride the bus to his group therapy where he seems to be making little progress. He’s terrified, nearly paralyzed with fear that something will happen to him, or worse, to his child.

As a potent metaphor for first-time fatherhood, the film generates a considerable amount of clammy suspense, an inky dark mood of uncomfortable constant tension. In his small, dark new home, the man has a constant wild-eyed stare, his hair mussed and stuck on his forehead with half-dried sweat. As he mournfully tries to get on with his life, he feels haunted by his wife’s attackers. One night, he thinks he sees a hooded figure through the beveled glass of his door. Later, he comes home to find the deadbolt on his entrance rattles uselessly. One creepy shot watches the man in the kitchen preparing a bottle for his hungry infant when a sudden movement across the doorway behind him is caught reflected in the teakettle, unseen by the protagonist but unmistakable to the audience.

Events conspire to push this man’s fear even further. The film grows more rattled and tense. More characters are introduced. A kindhearted nurse (Wunmi Mosaku) tries to help the man. A possibly insane priest (James Cosmo) strangely seems to know the answer to this particular trauma and attempts to compel the man to help stop this particular haunting and prevent further violence. An eerie blind boy (Jake Wilson) serenely walks through the picture as well, unafraid of the dangers to come. All the while, an ominous score noodles away throughout the scenes, laying a heavy aural pall over it all, milking the simmering fright for all it’s worth, which isn’t much, really. This film’s fine horror atmosphere is soon revealed to be no more than that.

By the end, the film has grown rather empty, dipping too far into conventional horror scares, losing its somewhat subtle psychology as it descends into routine shambling villains, children in peril, slimy mise-en-scène, and rote symbolism of dark and light that carries unfortunate (and likely unintended) mixed messages about class, especially with the hoodie-wearing kids dehumanized in uncomfortable ways. Throughout, Barnard’s hardworking performance provides a spooked intensity that carries the film, but the construction ultimately lets him – and the whole production – down. Foy has created a tense, intriguing set-up that serves him well for a good portion of the film’s 84-minute runtime, but it resolves in a dispiritingly routine way. Sadly, the less abstract the film’s source of fear becomes, the easier it is to dismiss, the film growing thinner as it goes along. This is an intriguing, ultimately unsatisfying, feature that shows its writer-director to be one of promise, even if said promise isn’t fully activated here.

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