The concept of a movie with feral children is a fairly uncommon one, ‘uncommon’ being a word that you rarely associate with the genre of horror. This year of course we were treated to the film Mama which used the idea and in years gone by there’s been pictures like Shiver (2008) from Spain which is well worth unearthing from your local video store. In the British film Citadel, Ciaran Foy who directs his first full length feature embraces the unsettling concept with aplomb.
We open in a wintery, colourless inner city tower block where Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) is saying goodbye to his girlfriend Joanne. After a trip to drop half of his bags in the taxi, he takes the lift back up to collect the last few items. With the lift in disrepair however, as he gets to Joanne’s (Amy Shiels) floor, the door sticks and he finds himself watching helplessly through the elevator window as three dishevelled children attack her and drive a hypodermic needle through her pregnant stomach.
Fast forward to present day and we discover that the baby survived and is living with Tommy, although it appears that Tommy is by no means in a good place after witnessing such a traumatic event and is receiving counselling for agoraphobia. As Tommy makes his way home through the estate, we notice posters for missing children pinned up around the place amongst the burned out wrecks of cars and the remains of fly tipping dotted indiscriminately. That evening, nine months after the incident Tommy is faced with going to the hospital to turn off Joanne’s life support system as there a no signs of recovery. Her death certificate reads simply ‘unknown infection’.
His plans to leave town immediately after the funeral are curtailed by the rundown town’s increasingly reduced bus service, and he’s forced to break into his old house after signing it back to the council to spend one last night there. Partway through the night there’s an attempted break in by a group of feral kids which serves to further affect Tommy’s psychological state. He’s able to telephone his friend Marie (Wunmi Mosaku) who upon visiting manages to cajole him out of his house and into the protection of a priest (James Cosmo) who has his own plans for revenge on these hooded savage children.
A movie with a renegade kick-ass priest is undoubtedly one to behold. My only frustration with Citadel is that we didn’t see more of James Cosmo’s ballsy foul-mouthed character. That’s not taking away anything from the excellent Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard who is in practically every scene of this film and delivers a phenomenal performance with pain and fear permanently etched upon his face. This desolate part of Glasgow where the movie was shot gives the movie a bleakness and a stark lack of hope. The weather too contributes to the feel of the film with snowfall adding to the level of isolation that fills the screen.
While the feral children aspect is prominent, it also crosses swords with the notorious hoodie horror sub-genre within which it has big shoes to fill. Films like Eden Lake and F have set the bar high, and I’m pleased to say Citadel can certainly sit comfortably amongst them. Shot sparingly and with a lean running time, this is a film that leaves you feeling deeply unsettled. In a year that’s found British horror in a somewhat subdued state, Citadel is the water to quench our thirst.