Writing a review of a mediocre film can be just as bland as watching one. Such a film does not have admirable elements, but is not so horrible to warrant pulling out the disc, dousing it with gasoline and setting it on fire. For this reason, I typically do not write about films that dwell in the realm of mediocrity. However, Citadel, a 2012 obscurity from the United Kingdom is an exception. This film has enough awful characteristics to keep it from achieving an Oscar, however, it’s redeemable qualities keep it out of the flames.
After a catastrophic event that leaves Tommy, played by Aneurin Barnard, as a single father, he struggles to manage his agoraphobic condition caused by the traumatic death of his wife. When the gang of deformed, feral children return for his infant daughter, Tommy seeks the help of an intense, foul mouth, renegade priest. Together, the priest, played by James Cosmo, Tommy, and Danny, a mysterious blind child played by Jake Wilson, venture into a condemned building in search of the abducted child.
Being no prize, it is unclear to me as to how Citadel managed to win 11 small time awards and gain 7 small nominations. Personally, I am speculating that the competition was fairly thin year. However, judging by the location of every film festival, I might guess this film was submitted to every competition between California and the furthest eastern reaches of the United Kingdom. Regardless, there are some major issues that keep this film from being a home-run.
First on the chopping block is the hurried feel that the film seems to portray. Due to no actual time elapse signification, there is no way to tell how long it has been since the death of Tommy’s wife. Following his wife’s hospitalization, we are thrown into a scene of group therapy for Tommy’s agoraphobia, which comes across as cheesy rather than the intended seriousness. For the simple fact that there was such a sudden transition within the character, Tommy comes across as an unlikeable nutcase.
The element of Tommy’s psychological downward spiral seems to be a very large piece missing to the puzzle. If this overly dramatic group therapy scene would have been replaced with a one on one therapy session between Tommy and his psychologist, more ground could have been covered with approximately the same budget. For example, the session could have consisted primarily of dialogue while working in a quick segment of short flashback scenes representing the time that had passed. This would have shown the descent into Tommy’s personal Hell by bringing more understanding and attention to the seriousness and complexity of a psychological illness. Portraying this perspective would have added depth to Tommy’s character allowing the audience to see what he is seeing and feel what he is feeling. By going further into detail, Tommy’s character would have been much more likeable. Unfortunately, we are stuck with a broken character to which the audience has no attachment. With the exception of the wellbeing of his child, I was hoping to see this guy meet an untimely demise as the film progressed.
Another character who is poorly written is Marie, a social worker portrayed by Wunmi Mosaku. Throughout the film, Marie is a likable character with a caring heart. True to her profession, Marie is trying to help Tommy through this trying time so that he will stand the best chance possible of keeping custody of his daughter. However, things awkwardly begin to fall apart when Marie attempts to kiss Tommy without any hint as to deeper feelings between the two characters. As Tommy turns away from the kiss, the scene doesn’t seem to phase either character. However, it does present an odd feeling to the audience who may wonder where that just came from. To anyone who is concerned with this character relations oddity that is never addressed, you need not fret. Marie’s character comes to an abrupt halt before anything can actually go anywhere.
Despite these downfalls, hope is found in the outrageous priest who unexpectedly breaks into the film as a hardass with a foul mouth. Contrary to Marie’s soft, passive approach, the priest has no time for nonsense from a broken character. Oddly enough, the audience does not want to have time for this character either. For this reason, the priest earns a few points and cheers from my skeptical eyes.
James Cosmo does an outstanding job in his portrayal of the priest who is on a mission and has taken matters into his own hands. Having prior knowledge about this gang of feral children and their origin, the priest and the mysterious blind child seem to hold the key to overcoming this abomination and recovering Tommy’s infant daughter. Given that the film has just enough nonsense built into so many scenes, it is a relief to discover a no-nonsense character that is ready to get down to business.
Other redeemable elements of this film consist of the cinematography as well as the portrayal of the feral children. The cinematography from scene to scene creates a gritty sense of dread and panic, which coincides with Tommy’s agoraphobic condition. To reinforce this creep factor along with a couple jump scenes, the feral children are well represented with their quick moving, tweaking, zombie-like, unpredictably stalking behavior. Perhaps my personal favorite approach to this film is the mysterious anticipation surrounding the feral children. Keeping their faces and deformities carefully conceal throughout the first half of the film, it is unclear of their background and agenda. Are these children demonic? Is there something supernatural involved? Are they cannibals? Or are they simply street thugs who have it out for Tommy and his family? When their faces are startlingly revealed, only one thing becomes clear: they are a monstrosity.
While it is not quite the gloss over gem of the century, Citadel will keep you enthralled just enough to prevent you from ejecting the disc, dousing it with gasoline and lighting it on fire. You will hate some aspects of this film and probably walk away wondering why. That would be due to a horrible final cut with poorly executed scenes and character development. However, there were some redeemable aspects that will help hold your attention just enough to see the credits roll. As much as I wanted to hate the ending to this oddball of a film, I couldn’t help but love the plot twist as well as the overall conclusion that successfully ties everything together.