Starring Aneurin Barnard, James Cosmos. Written and directed by Ciaran Foy. 14A. 84 min. Opens Nov. 16.
Citadel takes some real urban nightmares—squalid public housing, infected junkies, youth gangs—and distills them into a neat little psycho-horror thriller. Irish newcomer Ciaran Foy’s feature debut may not have much of a budget, but it makes resourceful use of its setting—a bleak, virtually empty council estate—to mirror the fear and isolation of its young-father protagonist. There are parts of the film where comparisons with early Roman Polanski would not be amiss.
Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) is agoraphobic, his dread of going outside the result of having watched helplessly as his pregnant wife was attacked by a pack of feral children and left for dead. Now a single father, he lives in terror that the same crazed kids will get him and his nine-month-old daughter. In his plight, he’s torn between the rationalizations of a sympathetic hospice worker (Wunmi Mosaku) and the ravings of a crazy old priest (James Cosmos), who insists the children are mutants and that the derelict tower block where they squat should be torched.
Fans of British horror writer Mike Bennett have pointed out parallels between Foy’s screenplay and Bennett’s 2008 story “Trolls,” which similarly involved a sinister gang prowling a council estate. That may be, but Foy has also cannily exploited his own experience with the psychiatric disorder agoraphobia, as well as the common anxieties of any new parent. Barnard, a slight actor with huge dark eyes, makes Tommy’s fears painfully palpable, coming across like a terrified hunted animal. His hoodie-clad antagonists, who stab their victims with syringes, are suitably menacing from a distance, but not very scary close-up. Tommy’s climactic confrontation with them in the tower block is also a let-down. Until that point, however, Citadel proves a fresh and effective entry in the cliché-riddled horror genre.