One can always tell how nervous Judge Daryl Loomis is by how profusely he's sweating.
They see your fear.
Most of the time, horror stories come from the farthest reaches of the imagination, using fantastical concepts and monsters to tap into our deepest-seated fears and anxieties, or at the very least, to shed a little blood. Sometimes, though, real life experiences can be equally scary and much more personal than your average immortal killer with an axe. It was just such an experience that spawned Citadel, an Irish horror-thriller debuting on Blu-ray from New Video.
As Tommy (Aneurin Barnard, Ironclad) and his pregnant wife prepare to move out of their high rise apartment, a group of psychotic teenagers attack, leaving his wife comatose. The doctors are able to save the baby, but unable to save her, or Tommy's sanity. While he does his best to care for his newborn daughter, his mounting fears and paranoia take their toll. He can't leave his house and he sees these kids everywhere. They seem to be targeting his daughter and he can't understand why until a foul-mouthed priest (James Cosmo, Emma) explains that his delusions are real. With his help and a crazy plan, Tommy might be able to overcome his fears, take care of these kids, and save his daughter.
Citadel isn't a great example of horror, but it's certainly a personal one and deserves points for that. Years ago, director Ciaran Foy was attacked by a gang of thugs and, beaten brutally, began to develop a fear of going outside. At the time, he certainly didn't realize it, but he would turn this experience into his first feature film. These issues of grief and mental illness, combined with a gaggle of freaky-looking kids, had the potential to make a very effective picture, but it doesn't quite add up to anything that compelling.
The film's individual parts are fairly solid, with a very strong lead performance from Barnard and direction that handled all the young actors very well. Performances alone can't save a horror film, though, and Citadel lacks the atmosphere and thrills that could have taken it over the top. There is a moderate amount of violence, though it's not terribly gory or filled with unnecessary special effects. The one big effects scene, in which we finally see these kids up close, is an unfortunate letdown. Their nature is ambiguous the whole time, and seeing them, they could be demons, zombies, or just weird looking youths; it's completely unclear.
Were it not for the compelling lead performances, that lack of clarity would have been a much bigger complaint. Barnard does really well with his role, portraying his grief, paranoia, and deep desire to care for his daughter with equal skill and empathy. James Cosmo provides some comic relief and most of the film's exposition as slightly crazy priest and single father of a young blind boy named Danny (Jake Wilson), whose presence is the lynchpin that teaches Tommy to live without fear. Together, they're a very solid trio of characters, but they can't quite overcome the film's inconsistencies.
Citadel arrives on Blu-ray from New Video in a fairly mediocre release. The 1.78:1/1080p image transfer is murky and lacking in detail. The film is intentionally quite dark, but the reproduction on disc keeps it from looking anywhere near its best. The daylight scenes look fairly crisp, but there are very few of these, and the night scenes leave a lot to be desired. The sound, though, is a considerable improvement. The 5.1 Master Audio mix is big and full of life, with plenty of spatial effects and definition. The dialog is always clear and the rear channels deliver a lot of satisfying atmosphere that should please just about anyone.
Special features aren't numerous, but they're decent. A making-of featurette runs 20-minutes and goes into a fair amount of detail about the making of the film and Foy's experiences that led to its inception. A pair of interviews follows it up. The first is a half-hour discussion with the director, who repeats a lot of what was said in the featurette, but in a much more in-depth way. The second is with Barnard and last ten minutes, with the star talking about how he approached the character. A trailer rounds out the disc and, though the box claims a reel of b-roll footage, it isn't included, though I'm not complaining.
Citadel is by no means a bad film. With a strong concept and even stronger performances, there was plenty of potential for success. The general lack of atmosphere and inconsistent mood keeps leaves most of that potential untapped, though, and the eventual reveal of what these kids look like is a major disappointment. I can't dislike it all that much, but I definitely hoped for more.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Other Reviews You Might Enjoy
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
Review content copyright © 2013 Daryl Loomis; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.