In films like Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown, or novels like Martin Amis’s Lionel Asbo, anti-social behaviour is a rising tide in today’s Britain, surging up from the underclass as irrevocably as climate change, melting morals and spreading hot violence. Citadel takes this notion and runs wild with it, all the way to the crossroads where social allegory meets psychological horror. Here, wayward youths have left anti-social far behind: Instead, faceless beneath enveloping hoodies, they’re feral and demonic, the monsters in a monster flick. The sociology, then, is a tad flawed; more to the point, so is the flick.
Director Ciaran Foy starts us out in the fictional dystopia of Edenstown, a lost paradise of dilapidated council flats and crumbling towers. In one, the Citadel, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) watches helpless from a stalled elevator as his pregnant young wife is viciously attacked by a hooded threesome, wielding a dirty needle as their weapon of choice. The mother dies, the baby survives in the dubious care of her single father, now reduced to a wide-eyed emotional wreck holed up in his yellow-walled apartment. There, while the child cries and Tommy cowers, Foy goes into faux Polanski mode, borrowing generously (if ineffectually) from Repulsion and The Tenant to set the surreal mood. Insanity knocks on the door.
Happily, it’s only Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), a kindly nurse who doubles as the voice of empathetic liberalism. She urges Tommy back out into the cold world, warming him with her belief that the attack on his wife was tragic but random, and that the attackers are themselves victims of their underprivileged surroundings: “It’s so easy to demonize these kids. What they need is our sympathy”. Well, since horror is typically a conservative genre, it’s never hard to guess the fate meted out to the holders of liberal thoughts. Say goodbye to Marie.
And hello to the vigilante priest (James Cosmo), whose faith may be gone but not his sense of divine purpose. For him, the feral kids aren’t the symptoms of a greater malaise but a disease unto themselves, and the only treatment is radical surgery: “They’re like a cancer. Cutting it out is the most merciful thing you can do.” So mercy must be practised.
To that end, the priest and his acolyte – a literally blind little boy – school Tommy on the rite of demonic dealings: “It’s your fear they’re attracted to. They smell your fear.” I smell a bogus scenario, especially when the converse of that odorous logic is merrily explained: The unafraid are invisible to the rampaging hordes, and thus safe from their menace. Armed with these dual premises, the picture lurches towards its predictable climax, followed by a denouement in a tunnel – you know, the dark kind with the light at the end.
En route, Foy drenches the proceedings in the customary palette, adding to that sickly yellow plenty of bilious green, then fading at regular intervals to your basic, can’t-see-a-damn-thing black. It’s all rather nausea-inducing and a bit frightening – not the film (I can only wish) but its subtextual message. Which is? Basically, that the state has a pro-social obligation to broadly define and then destroy its anti-social elements. Of course, there’s a name for such states and for the movies that promote them: No longer content with simple conservatism, this horror is downright totalitarian.