It’s every human being’s nightmare—watching helplessly as the person you love is violently taken from you. That’s exactly what happens to fresh-faced young husband Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) at the start of Ciaran Foy’s promising feature debut. While moving out of an Irish slum apartment, our fragile hero witnesses a brutal attack on his pregnant wife by a group of hooded children (an unbearably tense sequence). The baby is born alive, but Tommy becomes agoraphobic and is forced to stay near the site of the attack while his wife lies in a coma at a nearby hospice. Cut to several months later, when it seems Tommy will finally be able to take his daughter and leave this terrible place behind. But fate—or more properly, those zombified hoodie kids—have other plans in store.
As with many horror films, Citadel is best when the intentions of the villains are murky. Foy does an expert job playing on his audience’s phobias in the early scenes where the slightest shadow or sound makes Tommy reflexively slink into corners, helpless and gasping for breath. But then a comically foulmouthed priest (James Cosmo) takes center stage, pleading with Tommy like a substandard Van Helsing to help him end the reign of these mysterious urban monsters and offering way too many pat explanations as to their origins. The scary set pieces that follow are all very well done (one scene on a near-empty bus is cold-sweat inducing). Yet the more that fright-flick conventions take over, the more the movie’s recognizable and resonant human fears are dulled.
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