One of the fascinating elements of Sheffield’s CELLULOID SCREAMS Horror Film Festival is its traditional secret movie. With the festivals’ unwavering commitment to only screen movies that are as yet unavailable on DVD or even being screened elsewhere in the UK, every effort is made to ensure the title doesn’t get prematurely revealed. Previous hush-hush delights bestowed to attendee’s were PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009), AMER (2010) and in 2011, Justin Kurzels masterpiece, SNOWTOWN.

This year it was a very gritty piece of original horror cinema written and directed by Irishman Ciaran Foy. CITADEL begins with what I would suggest it is every expectant father’s worst nightmare. Trapped in a lift as his family prepare to move out of their condemned tower block, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) watches helplessly as his wife Joanne (Amy Shiels) succumbs to a nasty attack by a seemingly rabid mob of youths. The medics have indeed saved his baby daughter, but Joanne’s ordeal via a syringe stab to the neck means she tragically enters coma due to contracting some bizarre infection.

A few months later, Tommy’s lone toil to raise his baby in a callous world is accentuated by his all consuming fear. Paranoid that another senseless attack on his family waits, he struggles but ultimately visits his comatose wife while also attempting to seek help through ‘fear counselling’. The support only serves to swell his agoraphobia which flourishes further when he observes the very thugs that shattered his family unit lurking around his new abode.

Caring for his wife is an unassuming nurse Marie (Wunmi Mosaku) who befriends him. He also meets a capriciously natured priest (James Cosmo). While having new found confidants may seem a positive thing, they appear to have conflicting opinions on his plight as well as mere contrasting personalities. Marie takes the humane approach. Looking at the wider and more historical picture, she seeks empathy from Tommy urging him to consider the unacceptable abuse that Joanne’s assailants themselves have probably endured. Tinged with a little madness, the priest is acerbic in his condemnation of the feral little creatures. They are pure evil whose sole purpose is to abduct other children before transforming them into yet more little monsters.

Initially Tommy considers both perspectives. But as the story develops, events occur that decide his allegiances once and for all...

The movie was apparently spawned due to director Ciaran Foy’s own personal experience when he was senselessly attacked as a youth by a gang armed with hammers. It’s not surprising then that it tends to lean toward "anti liberalism" in its downbeat tone. The fact that ‘hoodie’ clad thugs are summed up as classically demonic gives you some idea to its agenda! The film really does open a whole can of worms in regards to its not so subtle social commentary.

The whole movie painted a depressing picture of run down estates and from a visual perspective, it looked very cold. The varying grey tones of steel and concrete provided the core of the movies pallet.

CITADEL cleverly combines psychological horror with supernatural scare elements to maximum effect. The overriding tense atmosphere as Tommy becomes engulfed with fear is in turn complimented by some more traditional menacing jolts.

Using children in horror is always going to induce a little controversy and Foy doesn’t hold back in this respect. The gang culture sweeping through Britain’s inner city streets (even incongruously glamorised by certain factions of the music industry and greedy sportswear manufacturers) although vilified by the media, appears to be bizarrely accepted as ‘cultural’ by the politically correct decision makers. But Foy takes this to another level. The little eye glowing fiends, are wonderfully ambiguous and truly unnerving especially when accompanied by the quite unsettling sound effects. My only qualm I guess was the rather tepid and rushed explanation for the origins of these little fuckers, but that could well have been the intention in order to keep the run time down to around 80 minutes.

It was a truly bleak vision of modern day Britain that provided the canvas for a highly original horror narrative to play over. My overall impression from this disturbingly austere movie was just how fragile the human mind is when satiated with fear and peril.

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Written and directed by Ciaran Foy