Just a few decades ago, it was easy to scare an audience, but with the advent of home video, in the cosy security of our homes we felt safe and to scare us it was necessary for film producers to create new monsters and new methods to invoke a sense of fear in audiences accustomed to horrors which would have terrified their parents. We are no longer concerned by the threat of alien invasions or sluggish zombies because modern life has generated its own fears, immediate and real, of unemployment, of what will become of our children, of governments which refuse to help the vulnerable and needy, the scaling back of emergency services already struggling to fulfil their duties.
The old monsters may be dead, but new demons have risen to take their place, hunting in packs, living under stairwells and gathering in underpasses on housing estates, cloaked in the anonymity of their hooded jackets and slouched postures, they scavenge and prey on those they see as weak, harassing them, stealing from them, swarming mindlessly as they trample their victims, challenging the moral and legal boundaries of our society.
Perhaps this is a stereotype, but it is one which has been shaped by both the Daily Mail and endorsed by our own government, eager to demonise the working classes and the unemployed, labelling them scroungers as though their misfortune were self created, and it is a stereotype embraced by Ciarán Foy, writer/director of Citadel.
On the outskirts of Glasgow, Tommy and Joanne are among the last residents of a council high rise scheduled for demolition. Attacked outside their flat, Joanne, heavily pregnant, does not recover, contracting and unknown infection and remaining in a coma though her daughter is born healthy. Tommy, now living in a run down house though still within the shadow of the estate, is severely agoraphobic, struggling to cope with everyday life, let alone the demands of being a single parent.
Convinced that he is being watched by the same delinquents who assaulted him nine months previously, after the decision is made to terminate Joanne’s life support Tommy is confronted at her funeral by an aggressive priest who tells him that it is not he who is being targeted but his daughter Elsa, and that they will be back for her.
As Tommy, Aneurin Barnard, more convincing as a distraught single father than Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black, conveys a variety of states of fear. Often without the benefit of dialogue his performance goes beyond the underwritten script which would be more suited to a one hour television play, the plot struggling to fill the eighty four minutes resulting in scenes principally occupied by strained silences and flickering lights. Indeed any importance the film might have had as a social commentary on inner city degeneration and the abandonment of a generation is diluted by the tiresome horror trappings whose sole purpose is to make the film a more commercial vehicle.
As sympathetic nurse Marie, Wunmi Mosaku is the sole voice of rationality, pointing out that it is ridiculous to believe that the hooded assailants are demons, they are children who have grown up in such deprivation as to be borderline feral, desperately in need of love and support. The reliable James Cosmo does his best in a stock expositionary role chiefly marked by a propensity for unnecessary profanity (the BBFC noted “the film contains around 40 uses of strong language,” which as Cosmo is only in half the film is once a minute) but for his first produced feature, Foy makes little effort to set himself apart from the pack, creating a film as generic and voiceless as his little monsters.
With Tommy possibly symbolising moral panic, his fears exacerbated by the images of violence in the animal kingdom he watches on his television and the unknown infection representing the growing problems of society where anyone can be affected, but the attempts to play the film as both social critique and urban hoodie horror fails at both, the sole innovation being the use of a male lead as the victim.
While the storyline Was drawn from Foy’s personal experience, it is too contrived to be an honest commentary, the literal demonisation of the threat undermining the serious message, plus obvious narrative holes (no attempt is made to call the police, the security conscious Tommy lives in a house with a frail glass panelled door and even when threatened fails to arm himself with so little as a baseball bat) and as a horror it captures neither the claustrophobia of David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s similarly themed Ils, a 2006 French thriller where a young couple are threatened in their home by a group of youths nor the invention of Colm McCarthy’s Outcast, a 2010 tale of dark magic set in a run down Edinburgh high rise block.