Friday, June 7, 2013

Film Review: Citadel [2012]

I’ve watched this film around ten times.
Not because I really enjoyed it.
But because for such a simple premise it’s a bit tough to wrap your head around.
Spoilers abound since the first half of this review is synopsis, so if you want to avoid reading it before you see it, skip to the page break for the “Is it worth watching or not?” part.
If instead you’re capable of reading about a film and still enjoying the experience of seeing it after reading about it, then forge bravely forward.

There’s a young man.
He and his well pregnant wife live in a dilapidated tower building of apartments in some Irish suburb slum.
For some inexplicable reason, his wife is attacked and stuck with a hypodermic needle by hooded youths while the young man is trapped in an elevator with a window for him to watch the attack.
The baby’s born and the wife goes into a coma for some other unknown reason.
The wife dies, leaving the young man to support the child on his own.
The wife’s funeral is attended by the young man, a nurse from the hospital, a gruff priest and his child sidekick and two people that never show up in the film again.
The priest warns the young man that they’ll come looking for her.
Understandably confused, the young man asks who will.
“You fucking know who.”, the priest replies.
For the next chunk of the film, the young man tries to bunker in and resist the attempts by the hooded hoodlums to break into his apartment and steal his baby.
The nurse from the hospital, feeling compassion for the young man and his unenviable situation befriends the young man and stops by to visit with relative frequency.
When the young man tells the nurse about the attempted invasions, the young man asks the nurse to accompany him to find the priest from the funeral and the nurse brings the young man to the priest to facilitate this process.
The priest takes the young man and the priest’s child sidekick, who is, by the way, blind, to a condemned tower block which is the nest of the hooded hoodlums, who it turns out, are mutant wall-lickers that can sense fear.
Essentially they’re the ring wraiths from the Lord of the Rings as interchangeable hooded teen-sized hoodlums.
The nurse is succinctly helped out of the film by a small group of hooded hoodlums and a length of pipe, leaving the young man with no one in the world but the priest and the blind boy.
The boy tries to flee by waving down and boarding a bus, but the bus is overtaken by hooded hoodlums and after the other passenger is done away with, the young man is attacked and knocked unconscious, and his baby stolen by the hooded hoodlums.
The young man, the priest, and the blind boy return to the derelict high-rise apartment building which serves as the hive for the hooded hoodlums to set bombs made from home-made plastic explosive to destroy the source of evil for once and all.
Predictably, it’s not that simple and bad things happen.
The priest coughs up blood and when experiencing the fear of his impending death he is swarmed and dismantled by the hooded mutant hoodlums.
The young man finds his baby and walks out from under the derelict high-rise hand-in-hand with the blind boy and when they return to the priest’s car the young man detonates the explosives, presumably purging the evil.
Now the young man has two mouths to feed.

The film is somewhat successful in exploring the counter-balancing combination of agoraphobia and claustrophobia when the city you live in is dangerous and your home is not safe.
It is also somewhat successful in communicating the anxiety of finding oneself involuntarily cast in the role of the single parent and the fear of being a father while also fearing shiftless inner city youth and a city that eats its young.
One of the downfalls is that the film is predictably formulaic.
Rising action followed by falling action.
It’s not that it’s bad film-making.
This formula is how films are usually made.
But this is also what makes the film predictable.
It follows the formula, providing scene changes and significant events like a well-tuned clock, but adhering to the standard film-making timetable also prevents the film from building any real sense of suspense.
I kind of found it difficult to care about what happened to any of the characters after the initial incident aside from wanting to know what happened because I hate not knowing the end of a story.
And, to be perfectly honest, the film is so dark and paced that I fell asleep the first nine times I put it on and only managed to make it to the end this tenth and hopefully final viewing.
The use of women and children as the targets for attack and abduction feels a bit exploitative, the two male characters performing all of the actions that move the plot forward.
I don’t adhere to feminist film theory, but sometimes some of their assertions are easier to defend when the only female characters in a film are victims or victimized or kidnapped.
The most redeeming part of the film is the visual style.
The film is successful in portraying an Irish suburb as modern-day dystopian landscape and an omnipresent oppressive character.
The public utilities are unpredictable and lights and telephones frequently malfunction.
The landscape is littered with trash and broken down cars and most of the time the light is either harsh or diffusive and gray from overcast skies and the last third of the film is lit by car headlight or flashlight which is, again, successful in setting the desired tone.
Tunnels are not properly lit and bus drivers operate the vehicles inside of protective cages.
The film is reminiscent of other films although not directly enough to be considered a remake, homage or derivative.
One film that comes to mind is David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) in which, Samantha Eggar’s anger makes her give birth to little girl monster clones from a stomach sack, and she is somehow able to instruct her spawn to venture out to attack anyone she sees as coming between her and her daughter.
Another is C.H.U.D. (1984) in which, to quote IMDB, “
A bizarre series of murders in New York City seems to point toward the existence of a race of mutant cannibals living under the streets.”.
Although Citadel film lacks the charm, suspense, scares, or story of either of the preceding.
The best comparison is the video for Come To Daddy by Aphex Twin with its rampaging man-faced children running amok in the trash-strewn alleys of a nondescript city in high-contrast black and white.
So if you’re interested in watching a feature-length adaptation of Come To Daddy mixed with C.H.U.D. in a hi-rise, featuring a variant of the little girls in The Brood starring Irish Tobey Maguire and Irish Brian Cox, shot in the slums of Trainspotting through a dishwater gray filter then this is definitely the film for you.
If this doesn’t seem to be the tagline for the kind of film you’d be interested in watching, I recommend that you go back and watch any or all of the films referenced as stylistically comparative and if you find yourself wanting more or a contemporary variation on the theme then find yourself a copy of Citadel (2013) and you will not be disappointed.
Overall, it’s not an unpleasant film to watch.
The film-makers were successful in telling a somewhat interesting story through the use of dialogue and moving pictures, but it won’t be making any Top Ten of 2012 lists unless that list is titled “Top Ten Horror/Suspense Films Produced in Ireland in 2012”, and it plays best as a film played in the background while you’re doing something else, like, for example, writing film reviews.

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