Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Citadel – review

Director: Ciarán Foy

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

I have made some good friends whilst studying the media vampire, and academic Simon Bacon counts amongst them. Simon has written extensively about vampires, has a true love for the genre he is writing about but, as much as I really enjoy getting involved in some of his projects, his stretching of the concept of vampire does occasionally pass where I would draw a conceptual line (and my definition is massively broad).

It was Simon who brought Citadel to my attention and it is precisely one line within the film that has convinced me that we are dealing with a type of energy vampire. However, even if that line was not there, I think I’d be looking at the common tropes this film plays with, as it does. It is also a marvellously bleak look at the inner city.

Joanne and Tommy
The film begins with a shot of three tower blocks dominating the screen (and later the skyline). It needs to be said that this film was around a time where tower blocks seemed to feature in films – be it La Horde (2009), The Raid (2011) or Dredd (2012), amongst others – almost as a character themselves; the urban equivalent of the gothic castle. Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his heavily pregnant wife Joanne (Amy Shiels) are going to escape this tower block, however, they are moving out. He leaves her by their flat door as he takes a set of bags to the waiting taxi.

Joanne after attack
The lift seems to misbehave by rote, he knows he has to manually pull the door shut to get the mechanism to move. When he gets back upstairs, he sees a group of kids, from the back but their features obscured by hoodies anyway, approach Joanne. The lift doesn’t open and then he sees them attack her and the lift moves from the floor. He has to run the stairs to get back up to her and they have gone. She is bloodied and they have stuck a syringe into her belly. They get her to hospital but, whilst their baby Elsa is born, Jo slips into a coma.

The blocks loom above
Nine months later, Elsa is crawling and Tommy is a single parent living in the house they were moving to – the tower blocks dominating the skyline behind the house and the area still part of the estate, still within the urban decay (the vaunted rejuvenation nothing more than a sign). Joanne is in St Anthony’s hospice. Tommy struggles to leave the house, he has developed agoraphobia and receives therapy and, we discover, buses no longer serve the estate – stopping on its border (mirroring the genre trope of the coach not approaching the castle).

James Cosmo as the priest
He attends the hospice as they stop life-support, sitting with Jo as she dies (the death certificate citing an unknown infection) and then, of course, her funeral. At the funeral he is given a card by Marie (Wunmi Mosaku) a nurse from the hospice. He is then berated by the priest (James Cosmo), who tells him to eff off and predicts that *they* will come for her (Elsa). Tommy is planning on moving to the city but he has to drop the house keys off at the council building, and this takes so long that he misses the only bus from the border of the estate and has to break into his erstwhile house, breaking the latch and leaving securing the door reliant on the door chain.

lurker at the threshold
Suffice it to say that there is a home invasion by the hoodies this leads the priest to, quite brutally and unsympathetically, explain what is going on (which I’ll cover in a sec). He also asks Tommy to help him burn the block down, this is refused until Elsa is taken and Tommy agrees so that he gets opportunity to save his daughter. We never see their faces, until later on, and even then the film obscures them but we see enough to question whether they are human. So, what exactly is going on?

the tower blocks
The priest is certainly convinced that the hoodied youths are not human, not any longer. It is interesting that the sceptical Marie accuses the priest of demonisation of the young – making the hoodied youths the representation of 'the other', which vampires often are. Anyway, the entire thing started when a junky girl in the 70s gave birth to twins before dying (of an unknown infection). Rumours started about dog children (probably so called because of their feral nature). The priest later admits to being the father of the original two.

Jake Wilson as Danny
They steal children to make like themselves – a turning process that leaves them blind. In fact the Priest has a rescued young boy, Danny (Jake Wilson), who was pulled from their grasp whilst maintaining his humanity but is blind. He, like all the others, can see fear (he describes it as red and Tommy’s as scarlet, making fear and blood analogous). The line that made this a review suggests that when it comes to fear “they thrive on it, they draw it out” and this can be read as them consuming the fear, and making them energy vampires.

They don’t just subsist on fear, however. We see one particularly feral, and chained, creature with raw meat (human or pet? The film doesn’t say) and blood around its mouth (interestingly this one lures Tommy by simulating a baby’s cry). We also see them licking the walls, and this is tied to fungal growths, like a cancer through the building. They can go out during the day but it seems they are nocturnal mostly (an evening power cut encourages them to go out en masse). The priest wants to stop them before they spread elsewhere – analogous to an infection; the infection that both the mother and Jo had perhaps.

licking walls
I liked this, it was a nice trip into an urban gothic, which played effectively with the othering of the dispossessed. The uncaring priest, the ineffectual council, the police that do not come (this is stated at one point) show a broken society and a failing patriarchal authority. Its difficult to age (as in the setting), none of the primary characters seem to have mobile phones. Tommy – as the primary character – is played to a neurotic level by Aneurin Barnard, with him having to find a strength. Cosmo is great as the foul-mouthed priest. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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