★★ / ★★★★
Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and Joanne (Amy Shiels) are about to leave their high-rise apartment. Tommy figures he should bring down some containers to the taxi before assisting his very pregnant wife out of the building. Upon his return, he encounters a malfunction in the elevator. Although it takes him to the correct floor, the door does not open. Almost immediately, he sees three hooded figures, potentially children due to their height, walk up to Joanne and start attacking her. When Tommy finally gets out of the box, he sees his wife covered in blood with a syringe having punctured where the baby is supposed to be.
Written and directed by Ciaran Foy, “Citadel” piques our interest by not completely letting us in on whatever is going on until well past the halfway point. While it does have positive qualities, in a way, the technique works against itself. By forcing us to exercise our imaginations, most of us will have come up with wild scenarios prior to the reveal. Unfortunately, its secrets are not entirely worth the wait.
The look of the picture is depressing which is appropriate. Not only is Tommy in a state of grief, he has developed agoraphobia since the encounter. The scenes set outside are ugly: no other color is present other than white, black, gray, and occasional tinge of blue; trash bags and broken furnitures are never picked up by garbage trucks; and, for an urban milieu, there seems to be no one around. At some point, I wondered if Tommy is living in a type of purgatory where he is meant to suffer for his sins.
It is not certain whether something supernatural is going on. There are pieces that seem to suggest that such a thing is occurring. Interestingly, the screenplay is adamant on focusing on the human factor for most of its running time. Tommy’s crippling agoraphobia and his awkward but warm interactions with a nurse, Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), who may or may not be interested in Tommy romantically, are utilized as anchors in order for the story to have some level of realism. These are more rewarding than the would-be horrors or thrills later in the film.
What the movie needs is a jolt in order for it to take off. When a priest (James Cosmo) and a blind boy (Jake Wilson) are introduced, there is an excitement because it appears as though the pieces are finally going to be put together. However, these characters prove to be so one-dimensional, they eventually start to feel too much like tools of the plot rather than interesting people who happen to have a little bit of knowledge about the bizarre attacks happening all around. It is difficult to care about what will happen to them.
“Citadel” has an interesting premise but its potential is squandered slowly by the writer-director consistently failing to advance the story in ways that makes sense for its universe. It has its menacing environ down pat. Everything else, however, needs to fall into place if we are putting the time and brain power to figure out its curiosities.