Monday, November 5, 2012

Ciaran Foy's foolish/fine CITADEL is alter-nately atmospheric/creepy and silly/dumb

TrustMovies would be quite surprised if filmmaker Ciaran Foy has even a nodding acquaintance with the human species known as babies. Yet a baby acts as the sort-of lynch-pin of this writer/director's new sci-fi/horror/
thriller CITADEL. Consequently, as good -- dark, decaying, ugly, ghastly, gory -- as much of his movie is, one of those unsightly and offending red flags arises almost as soon as that baby comes upon the scene. Given over to the care of her only remaining parent, Dad, who -- from what we can tell by scene two of the film -- is a basket case, this poor baby could barely have survived up to now, let alone what she is soon to be put through.

Babywise, Mr. Foy (shown at right) simply strains the movie to its breaking point and then bashes to smither-eens all remaining credibility. What do babies ingest for nourishment? From this film, it looks to be all bottle, all the time -- except for one attempt at cereal. Further, whenever she is being fed, it seems that she and dad are about to be attacked, so the formula preparation is a tad hasty and half-assed, with baby remaining unfed. Further, although the movie's tag line is "They see your fear" (They referring to the movie's very odd villains), instead, it's that poor baby who's most likely to see and feel the fear.

That's because her father, our would-be hero, Tommy (played by the very beautiful Aneurin Barnard, above and below), maintains a near-constant, bug-eyed state of terror, grabbing the poor little tyke, crushing her to him, then running around screaming like a nut-case and dragging his kid with him. If baby isn't totally fucked up already, she soon will be -- and probably for the rest of her life.

So what is it that has Tommy so terrified? It's the event that begins the film -- indeed, one for the books -- handled by Mr. Foy in fine, scary fashion. But when Tommy gets out of hospital, nearly a year later, and moves back home, it turns out that home is a very weird place indeed.

Granted this is a low-budget movie, but an entire housing project -- hell, the whole town -- seems to be deserted, except for Tommy, baby, social worker, a crazy local priest, and a couple of other figures, added as extras no doubt, to give the movie some sense of "scale." The film exists in a kind of literal no man's land between a believably run-down/failing housing project and some loony-tunes hell-on-earth.

Decay stalks this movie. It's all over the place: on the walls, doors, windows, stairs, ceilings and especially in the people we see. Citadel is like a nightmare come to life, which might be a good thing, except that we're never given any remotely real sense that a place like this could exist.  Consequently, our minds wander to the usual scenarios: Is this guy nuts? Is the whole thing a dream? And so forth. Ditto the characters here.

Let's take that priest (James Cosmo, above, left): He's one of those movie characters who becomes whatever the filmmaker needs him to be at the moment -- nutcase, helper, hero, explainer of the movie's entire back-story (wait until you get a load of the humongous exposition on display!) -- and then suddenly he's simply expendable.

Likewise (spoiler ahead) his bizarre little helper, Danny (Jake Wilson, shown above, with Tommy), who goes from being unafraid (and thus unseen by the evil ones) to suddenly absolutely afraid. Tommy, on the other hand goes from constantly terror-stricken to absolutely cured of fear. Ah, well: the magic of movies.

And that social worker or hospital employee (Wunmi Mosaku, above, right) seems equally out of place. Does she really think everything is OK, as she tries to convince Tommy, or is either she or he nuts? The movie often feels as if the filmmaker is making this whole story up as he goes along.

The ending? It is as unbelievable -- though even more ridiculous -- than what has preceded it. And yet...  Citadel is wonderfully atmospheric, and as shot (by Tim Fleming) and edited (by Tony Kearns and Jake Roberts) to a fare-thee-well, it keeps you hooked by virtue of its swift pacing and terrible ugliness.

So it's a draw, I guess. Mr. Foy and crew are as technically adept as this kind of film ever manages, but as a writer, the filmmaker needs to put some more thought into things. And either use that baby believably -- or ditch the idea. (Or play the film only to young audiences who've never come near responsibility for a kid.)

Citadel, from Cinedigm & Flatiron Film Co., and running just 84 minutes, opens this Friday, November 9. In New York City, it's playing at the Angelika Film Center. Elsewhere around the country, who knows?  And the film's web site is no help here.

Photos above are from the film itself, 
except for that of Mr. Foy, which is by Tim Whitby 
and comes courtesy of Getty Images Europe.

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