Irish import Citadel is a stripped down thriller set in a crumbling inner-city slum. A young husband watches in horror as a band of juvenile hoodlums attacks his pregnant wife. She is killed, and the man is left alone with his infant daughter to battle intense depression and agoraphobia. Citadel is inspired by Director Ciaran Foy's own run-in with some misguided youths, and the film's troupe of feral bastards makes for a compelling villain. Citadel is horror stripped to its studs, and it relies on its depressingly rundown setting to imprison its hero in forced isolation. The build-up is a bit slow, but Citadel is a successfully nuanced effort.
After his wife's ugly attack assault, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) is forced to watch her waste away in a coma before life support is withheld. Tommy takes his miracle daughter home, but has trouble making it from the bus to his crumbling tenement building due to his debilitating anxiety and fear of crowds. Visions of the attack plague Tommy's dreams, and his mind tricks him into seeing the inhuman juveniles everywhere. Tommy lives in some rundown corner of a city - the film was shot in seedier parts of Glasgow, Scotland - where signs promising revitalization are covered in graffiti and bus drivers sit inside metal cages. A kind social worker, Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), is Tommy's only friend, and tries to instill in Tommy the confidence he needs to raise his baby.
The antagonists in Citadel are certainly unique: a band of wild, dead-eyed children with an appetite for mayhem and carnage. The film's creepy, blue-tinged key artwork makes it look like a zombie flick, which is kind of misleading. These wild antagonists are actually a lot scarier because they're mysterious and largely unexplained. Tommy meets the unhinged Priest (James Cosmo), who urges him to attack the children head-on lest he live in constant fear and danger of being attacked again. Citadel exists in a world where people turn a blind eye to one another's torments. The young killers operate in clear view of others, who defend themselves by ignoring the problem and running for safety.
The film remains tense without digital effects, and Foy uses light and shadow to hint at further unseen terror. Barnard gives a strong performance, and is believable in his fear and love for the only remaining link to his dead wife. His mental instability increases his isolation, but Tommy doesn't leave the area because he lacks the resources. Without money, transportation or a new place to live, Tommy is forced to remain in the danger zone. Citadel's crumbling urban slum is depressing and frightening, and the few key details eventually revealed about the feral children stink of desperation. This is an admirable first feature for Foy, and the director does much on a limited budget.
The 1.77:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer suffers a bit due to the frequent nighttime and dark interior scenes. Crush tends to pop up - not unexpectedly given the minimal budget - and smother some detail, but the filmmakers do intentionally use this pervasive darkness to increase tension. Detail is excellent in brighter scenes, and close-ups reveal heavy facial detail and texture. The film has a dull, desaturated appearance, but skin tones are accurate. Some low-budget quirks like shimmering and noise are present, but overall this transfer is adequate.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is decent but not exceptional. Dialogue is crisp and clean, but the track is largely front-loaded. The creeks and groans of the crumbling urban fortress do waft through the surround speakers, but the mix is not as immersive as it could be. Even so, clarity is good, and a few action effects receive subwoofer support. No subtitles are available.
The Behind the Scenes: "Making-Of" Featurette (19:07/HD) provides a decent overview of production, with interviews from the cast and crew and some on-set footage. Next up are two lengthy Cast and Crew Interviews from Director Ciaran Foy (32:42/HD) and Aneurin Barnard (10:45/HD). Foy discusses his real-life inspiration for the film, and Barnard talks about playing such a challenging, grief-stricken character. Finally, you get the film's trailer (2:07/HD).
Citadel is solid, unflashy horror from Irish director Ciaran Foy. Set in a crumbling urban slum, the film follows a young father left to care for his daughter after young hoodlums murder his wife. These roving terrors continue to torment the man, who fears losing the only link to his dead wife. Citadel is not the zombie thriller its posters promise, but its young, shadowy villains are primal and scary. Aneurin Barnard is great in the lead, and Citadel does a lot with minimal resources. Recommended.