Friday, June 28, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #28: CITADEL (2012)

The Story: After a young man sees his wife get attacked by feral "children," he suffers from agoraphobia and struggles to protect his own child from the same threat.

Expectations: This film has been getting a lot of buzz lately.  First-time filmmaker Ciaran Foy has told several interviewers that the story is based on real-life experience, and reviewers have suggested that this accounts for the truly harrowing quality of the film.  I have been equally intrigued by the comparisons to Roman Polanski's REPULSION and David Cronenberg's THE BROOD, two personal favorites.

Reaction: The film hooked me in the first few minutes, with its bleak and ominous setting -- an abandoned low-income housing development in Glasgow.  There is a sense of almost apocalytpic horror about the place... sort of like a combination of CANDYMAN's Cabrini Green and Henry's apartment in ERASERHEAD.  This immediately sets the tone of the film, which is one of crushing isolation and despair.

I've noticed that great horror movies often have an element of despair.  Beyond the visceral impact of immediate physical threats, they reveal a sadness about life -- rooted in the way that we casually and habitually separate ourselves from one another.  Such films propose that our survival (our psychological survival, if not our physical survival) is dependant on our willingness and ability to connect to other people, and even to fight for them.  CITADEL hits all of these notes, if not always with perfect grace.

The storytelling does get a bit clunky at times. The second half of the film focuses on a foul-mouthed priest and his blind son, who ally themselves with the main character to fight back against the feral children.  We never learn much about the priest and his son.  Why are they still living in the projects?  How did the kid go blind?  Is the priest genuinely crazy (as his reputation suggestions) or just surly?  We never even learn much about the "children" -- although I'm clinging to the idea that they are escaped products of the rage experiments in Cronenberg's THE BROOD.  Bottom line: this is not a logic-based story.  Everything in this film serves an allegorical function.  The monsters are manifestations of Fear.  The priest and his blind son exist simply to help the main character overcome Fear.  The main character's child exists only to stimulate his instinct for Protection.

Personally I would have preferred more realism... a bit more of the filmmaker's personal experiences and a bit less of his horror movie influences... but there's no denying that the best moments in CITADEL do have raw power and real feeling.   This is a sincere horror film. 

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: As Ciaran Foy says in his interviews, the most haunting thing about the monsters in this movie is the fact that we never understand them.  We can't control the things that happen to us.  We can only control how we respond. 

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