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November 12, 2012

‘Citadel’: Real attack, agoraphobia inspired Irish horror film

Posted in: Movies

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Aneurin Barnard portrays a frightened young father in the Irish horror film "Citadel." (Cinedigm)

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Aneurin Barnard stars as a young father afraid to leave his home after a brutal attack in the Irish horror film "Citadel." (Cinedigm)

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James Cosmo, left, and Aneurin Barnard in the Irish horror film "Citadel." (Cinedigm)

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Aneurin Barnard, left, and Jake Wilson in the Irish horror film "Citadel." (Cinedigm)

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Aneurin Barnard, left, and Jake Wilson in the Irish horror film "Citadel." (Cinedigm)

When Irish director Ciarán Foy was 18 years old, a gang of kids in hoodies beat him with a hammer and held a dirty syringe to his throat.

“The scariest thing about it was the fact that they didn’t want anything,” Foy said. “They didn’t take anything. I never knew the ‘why.’”

Though Foy survived, the brutal attack left him with agoraphobia, which he battled through his 20s. It also left him with an idea for his first feature film; in “Citadel,” a horror movie due out Friday, a young father suffering from debilitating agoraphobia tries to protect his infant daughter from a mysterious brood of children wearing hooded clothing.

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“Citadel” director Ciarán Foy. (Cinedigm)

“I basically fused my struggles with agoraphobia, along with my nightmares and the paranoid way I saw the world as a frightened 18-year-old, and married it with my love of genre films,” Foy said in a recent email interview. “I was drawing on real-life iconography present in the various areas where I grew up: gangs of 13- to 14-year-olds in hoodies. I wanted to take that image and create a horror creature of it.”

“Citadel,” five years in the making, received the audience award for the Midnighters section of the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, where it made its world premiere earlier this year.

The horror film stars Aneurin Barnard as Tommy, a father who witnesses a group of small, hooded figures attacking his pregnant wife. She succumbs to her injuries, but their child survives, and Tommy struggles to find the courage to leave his home in the projects, especially after the priest (played by “Game of Thrones” actor James Cosmo) at his wife’s funeral warns him the attackers are coming back for his daughter. He’s aided by a hospice nurse named Marie, played by Wunmi Mosaku, who tries to reassure him that despite his wife’s tragic death, the hooded attackers are just underprivileged kids who need love.

“Marie was right — kids do need love; she was just wrong about these being regular kids,” Foy said. “So many psychological horrors are built toward an angry but misunderstood antagonist. Like the ghost is only doing freaky things because it wants its story told and until then it cannot rest — type of thing. Or, ‘It’s all in his head’ is something I’ve seen time and time again. I wanted to build it toward those things and then subvert expectations so we’d get a shock. To say, ‘No, the terror is real! And there is no reasoning with it!’”

With that in mind, “Citadel’s” creepy hooded creatures were inspired not by other horror films, Foy said, but dark corners of everyday life.

“We drew on a variety of sources of inspiration — from the gaunt faces of meth addicts to the feral, the teeth of hyenas, how they move, as well as mold and fungus infestations,” he said.

The film’s location — Glasgow, Scotland, during the region’s worst recorded winter — adds to the sense of isolation and desolation. The actors worked in an abandoned tower with smashed windows during -19 Fahrenheit weather, filming the entire movie in 23 days.

“Throw into the mix babies, gangs of kids in prosthetic makeup, stunts, visual effects, special effects, and it was stress city for a lot of it,” Foy said.

citadelposter Citadel: Real attack, agoraphobia inspired Irish horror filmUltimately, the film is a study of fear, and triumph over it. The creatures feed on fear and can’t see characters who aren’t afraid, like Danny (Jake Wilson), a young boy in the Priest’s care, who helps Tommy find his courage. Thematically, Foy said his greatest inspiration was the Disney film “Dumbo,” in which the big-eared hero, afraid to fly, is given a “magic feather” to serve as a placebo and give him the confidence he needs to overcome his fear.

“We have to face our demons in order to be rid of them,” Foy said. “I wanted this to be a bittersweet story of redemption and hope. To go from fear to love. So many horror films have, at their heart, a nihilistic point of view. Or there’s a cynical twist at the end where hope is destroyed  I wanted to paint a bleak and dark picture, but have light at the end of the tunnel.”

For Foy, the film itself is his light at the end of the tunnel, with largely positive early reviews praising “Citadel” as an impressive debut. In Variety, critic Joe Leydon praised Foy for skillfully tapping “into primal fears and urban paranoia to keep his audience consistently unsettled.”

“It was hard writing it and spending five years trying to get it off the ground, not only from an economic point of view, but also because I would have to constantly bathe my mind in scenarios and situations I’d rather forget,” Foy said. “As a first-time feature maker, my crutch or feather was my storyboard. When the ice made several locations inaccessible … I had to throw my storyboard out the window, and dance on the spot with the actors and the director of photography. It was terrifying, but in a way it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I discovered that I could do it without the crutch. It was an extremely cathartic experience.”

— Noelene Clark


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