At this time of year every cineplex in Ireland is rocking to the summer’s blockbusters, ranging from super hero yarns to action films, the odd juvenile comedy (yes, This is the End – I’m talking ‘bout you), and the occasional gem.
This is the cinema experience most of us grew or grow up with, but there is an alternative to Hollywood big-budget movies, and Citadel is very much the opposite of what you’d expect if your viewing has been limited to franchises, sequels and disaster movies. But while it may not have a nine-figure budget, and less CGI than a serving of breakfast cereal, that doesn’t stop it from being a truly remarkable debut from Dubliner Ciarán Foy.
The story in Citadel is pretty straightforward, but it has a back story that’s hugely relevant, so we’ll start there. Back when writer/director Foy was in his late teens, he was the victim of an unprovoked attack, beaten with a hammer and threatened with a dirty syringe. The attack was carried out by faceless teens wearing hoodies.
Long after the physical effects of the attack had gone, Foy was left with a mental scar: suffering from agoraphobia, he found himself housebound for a while as he was terrified of the world outside. What eventually got him out the front was a letter of acceptance from the National Film School. Ultimately, his experience and love of genre films resulted in Citadel. This is a classic case of someone using a very negative experience and creating something positive from it.
Initially, I had assumed the film was shot in Dublin, as the location looked familiar. But as things moved along, its scale was beyond anything here, and it turned out to be some concrete jungle in Glasgow. As set locations go, this was perfect. Citadel is about the unpleasantness of life in such a hellhole.
Tommy Cowley (Aneurin Barnard) lives a quiet life in a decaying flat in a condemned-looking estate called Edenstown (whose name could well be a nod to neighbouring working-class Dublin suburbs Edenmore and Harmonstown), with his heavily-pregnant wife.
The couple get attacked one day by a group of hooded young thugs, which leaves his wife in a coma, and Tommy is left to raise his newborn daughter alone. Cowley is so shaken by the events he's experienced that he’s developed extreme agoraphobia. As a result he alternates days hiding out indoors in his new flat from imagined threats with intense therapy sessions aimed at bringing him back to normality.
When the same hooded gang, seemingly intent on kidnapping his daughter, turn up on his doorstep again and invade his home, he's torn between his paralyzing fear and protective parental instinct.
Then he comes across a rather unlikely vigilante: a foul-mouthed priest (James Cosmo in full-on, Travis Bickle mode), who has discovered the shocking background and reality behind the faceless gang who have been terrorising Cowley and his family.
Forming an unlikely alliance with the priest and a welfare worker (played by Wunmi Mosaku), Cowley battles to overcome his fears while venturing into the heart of the abandoned tower block known as the Citadel, a crumbling, desolate place where the faceless gang are kings.
Citadel is well-produced and certainly defies its obviously miniscule budget, and features some outstanding scenes that show Ciarán Foy has enormous potential. Fingers crossed he gets the opportunities his talent deserves.
Go see it, get spooked, enjoy. And keep a look out for Ciarán Foy. He’s heading to places a lot more sunny and glamorous than Citadel, but equally as scary.