Would you like to listen to screaming, bawling babies for eighty minutes? How about a protagonist unable to say a single sentence without shaking and blubbering? If so, consider this an early Christmas present. Have I got the movie for you!
CITADEL, or ATTACK OF THE KILLER HOODIES as I like to call it, is an Irish horror film without an ounce of levity and featuring very little competence either.
It begins when Tommy (Aneurin Barnard – HUNKY DORY, ELFIE HOPKINS) witnesses his pregnant wife being assaulted by three youths in hoodies. He manages to reach her before she’s killed. Unfortunately, she slips into a coma and is declared brain dead soon after. The doctors are able to deliver a healthy baby girl whom Tommy is now forced to raise on his own.
Nine months after the incident, Tommy is a man paralyzed by fear. If you don’t get that from his constant weeping, twitching and bug-eyed shaking then the script will actually remind you of this roughly every two minutes. As a consequence of this, he carries his daughter around without communicating much and has also become extremely agorophobic.
After finally taking his wife off life support (Boy, this one just gets better and better!), Tommy makes plans to leave his neighborhood. It’s an area of isolated buildings where you have to slip coins in a machine to turn the power on and the whole thing is due for a revitalization project. Unfortunately, events conspire to keep him from leaving. Moreover, the hoodies have returned and it looks as though they’re out to steal Tommy’s baby.
The hoodies can see fear, which is how they find their prey. If you’re someone paralyzed by fear, naturally it paints a giant bullseye on you and everyone around you.
Turns out the hoodies aren’t normal hooligans but some kind of mutation. They steal children and are able to turn them into their own kind by… er… okay, actually this film never explains how they turn these kids into mutations. Not even a little bit. Ever. Something about locking them in a cage and that’s it. Doesn’t make a lick of sense, especially when they explain the ridiculous origin behind the killer hoodies.
As a horror film, CITADEL is completely daft. I have no problem with that. Many of my favorite films, especially those within the genre, could be considered daft. Hell, I hold total daftness as one of the great sacraments of filmed entertainment. But it has to be done right. You can’t present a film that pretends to be serious to a fault, grounded one hundred percent in reality and then throw in something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It makes it feel as though you’re watching two different films, or at the very least one film from people who never stopped to think about their concept. This isn’t the daftness that makes films from Dario Argento or Jess Franco enjoyable. This is the daftness that makes this film from director Ciaran Foy unbearable.
Despite a promising beginning, Foy shows absolutely no visual flair for most of the film. Every single frame of CITADEL is drab. Whether indoors or outdoors, in a polished hospice or the dank, decaying walls of the title building, Foy completely bungles any chance he had to make the surrounding visually interesting. This means that CITADEL isn’t just a pleasant film to experience, it’s an unpleasant film to look at as well. This is a big sin for a horror film, in my opinion. One of the things that drew me to the genre in the first place is the realization that no other genre preys on such primal emotions as horror. To create a horror film that both looks and feels mundane, while pretending to present something profound, is a major error that cannot go unchecked.
And then we get back to the action on the screen. As a major plot point, Tommy is to act completely petrified at all times. But he is also supposed to be sympathetic. He isn’t. Instead, his constant whining, stuttering and blubbering made him a poor representation for our protagonist. While this could conceivably be an error of Barnard’s performance, he does seem to be doing overtime is making it work. No, loathe as I am to beat up on one person, I’m afraid this seems to be a problem mainly in Foy’s script and in his direction of Barnard.
You also get to hear his nine month old daughter cry for most of the film. The fear of children is something we are programmed to respond to. It has been used to great success in other films, all the way from Robert Wise’s CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE to James Cameron’s ALIENS. But here, I found myself just silently begging for the little brat to shut up. When both the main protagonist and the object of his protection are your biggest annoyances, the film has no chance of recovery.
Give Foy some credit for trying something different. There is probably a good horror film buried deep within CITADEL. Unfortunately, the shoddy execution guarantees that it’s a film not to be found here. ★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for strong language (being Ireland) and not very bloody violence
– Running Time: 1hr 25mins.