There are two excellent films I’ve seen which take place in a tower block: Attack the Block and The Raid: Redemption – they were original and edge-of-your-seat entertaining. This is not the case with Citadel. The only thing good about this film was that it ended.
Citadel does not work. From beginning to end, it does not make any sense and pollutes what could have been a terrifying piece of original work with irritating moments of forced frights. Most scenes are either contrived or flawed.
The film follows Tommy Cowley (Aneurin Barnard), who along with his pregnant wife moves out of what appears to be a broken down, lifeless apartment building. While packing up their last few things, Tommy goes down the elevator to put their remaining gear in the taxi, only to return to see his wife being attacked by a few hoodlums in white hoodies. (Why Tommy told his very pregnant wife to wait 11 floors up while he goes down to get the few things left in the car is beyond me).
When he gets back up and finds her being attacked, he breaks free from the inoperable elevator, scares off the attackers, and discovers there’s a syringe sticking out of her belly. This hints they didn’t want to kill her, but rather to infect what’s growing inside of her.
She soon dies on the operating table from an “unidentified infection” but thankfully the baby pops out before that fatal moment, leaving Tommy a single father. Time has passed and Tommy’s grown a mean case of agoraphobia (rightfully so) and he spends his free time looking over his shoulder. His hyper-paranoia has reached new heights and it doesn’t help that these goons have returned to taunt him at his house during late hours of the night.
Tommy eventually teams up with a priest (played by James Cosmo, who was so badass in Braveheart) who’s well versed on what these little fu**ers are up to and why they’re after Tommy’s baby. The priest explains to Tommy that these things are once-normal-turned-barbaric children hell bent on taking all kids and turning them into savages. Also, I should note these things are blind and can only sense fear. So if you’re near them and afraid, they will harm you. If you don’t give a fu**, they will walk right past you.
To add to the fat pile of things to criticize, when the priest and Tommy first meet at a funeral, instead of politely flagging Tommy down and explaining to him what’s going on and why his wife got syringed with an unknown virus, he scolds and cusses him out in front of everyone, while telling him to get out of town.
Wouldn’t any level-headed person (especially a priest) confide in an obviously confused man about what lies ahead? Wouldn’t it make sense for him to just tell Tommy, “Hey, these little buggers are after you for this and that. Protect yourself.”
This is the director’s way to strike fear into the viewer, who has yet to see the face of these children, now believed to be demons. It’s been said many times that the unknown can make for a more terrifying case because the mind wonders (Michael Myers is a great example), but when it’s forced (Hey! This things are scary, be afraid! Be very afraid!), the frightful becomes the fright-less.
These angry hoodlums taunt Tommy throughout the movie and then finally make a go of getting what they’re after. It’s questionable why they waste time tormenting him. Making his paranoia even worse doesn’t matter when your goal has nothing to do with intensifying Tommy’s pain and paranoia. Monsters don’t think much, they just have their eye on the prize. Everything else in the way is just fun chaos.
We’re never really told why these things want Tommy’s baby, we just know they really want Tommy’s baby (our only assumption is since these kids didn’t have a pleasant childhood, so none of the others will too). We do learn that these things were once children themselves and over the years, with abandonment, malnutrition and wild animal-like living, they have become hell bent on stealing babies and killing everything in their path.
Speaking of that, everything in their path does, in fact, get killed, but Tommy. They beat him with bats, scream mumbo jumbo stuff at him, and run away. Why are they keeping this one guy alive while killing everyone else on site? Isn’t the point to take his baby? Cue us in, please. Being vague and confusing the audience isn’t a smart method. “I saw this movie, it’s about pissed off demon kids who steal babies. I think” probably won’t sell the movie to many people.
The tower block Tommy once lived in is now infested with these demon children. From what we know, the police have never investigated this boarded up building or what’s inside of it. Nobody in the town seems worried or believes Tommy when he tells them these hooded little devils are after his child. When strolling through a park with a friend, they see a group of them in the distance. Tommy’s friend ignorantly tells him, “Let me show you everything is OK.” and walks up to them, ambitiously wanting to prove to Tommy that it’s all in his head. To no one’s surprise, she meets a tragic ending. (Good for them, they were probably hungry.)
Tommy and the foul-mouthed priest absentmindedly decide to rescue Tommy’s now stolen baby and set fire to the apartment building, despite knowing how vicious these things are. They decide to do it with the aid of a blind kid who can sense and feel what these demons do. He’s a guide of sorts and really believes in Tommy, despite showcasing how much of a pussy he really is numerous times in the film.
I’m no expert in killing demon kids, but I believe it’s a lot smarter to get law enforcement involved when you lack survival skills to defend yourself and a blind kid is leading you in a building full of hungry wolves. Maybe the audience will really, really suspend their disbelief and believe Tommy’s determination will conquer all. Or maybe they will think logically that he’s an idiot. It doesn’t take much to put two and two together.
I saved this for the very end because I don’t want it to get lost in my rants, but I must applaud Barnard’s performance. Even though the film is plagued with hollow frights, Barnard gives us his all as Tommy and bravely shows us a man willing to do anything for the only thing left in his life, his child, despite his rapidly growing schizophrenia.
In the end, we’re still uncertain why these kids were so determined to kidnap all the babies. It’s safe to assume since they had to suffer, they want everyone else to suffer, too. This film won the Midnight Audience Award at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival and I can only assume it was because everyone was asleep during its showing. Citadel is not a film for the easily frustrated. Or anyone, really.
(Follow Chase Whale on Twitter.)