[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage from this year's Chicago International Film Festival, which you can find more information right here. It is being reposted to coincide with the film's wider theatrical release.]
It wouldn't be fall without another horror film. Granted, I watched Citadel as part of this year's Chicago International Film Festival, but with its theatrical release in a few short weeks, I could categorize it as "another fall horror film," too. As such, it has a lot to compete against, not only within the trappings of the genre's cliches, but other horror films releasing around Halloween.
Read on to find out where Citadel lies in the spectrum.
Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) is a young father-to-be living in a large apartment complex. When his wife/expecting mother is attacked by a trio of hooded children, however, he's haunted by the attack and develops agoraphobia. Despite his daughter being born in the wake of the tragedy, Tommy still can't handle the psychological effects of the attack. With the help of a nurse (Wunmi Mosaku) and a priest (James Cosmo), he must find a way to face the horrors and truth behind the children... especially after they kidnap his newborn daughter.
The problem with Citadel is that it's just not scary. At all. The hooded kids have some minor makeup work done, but it looks like their faces were corroded away by acid. It's not really the scariest thing to see. Beyond the sparse scenes of them lurking around, knocking on doors, and loitering in an abandoned apartment complex, they're not exactly present.
The major conflict isn't Tommy vs. the kids, but Tommy vs. his internal struggle coping with his wife's attack. In an attempt to create a psychological horror film, The Citadel just ends up being ridiculously boring. There's little to no suspense driven throughout the film, and the overall plot is just boring. I admit, I'm not the biggest fan of horror films, but even I could see how stereotypical each character was. There's the everyman Dad, the helpful nurse, the angry religious man, the mysterious kid that knows more than his appearance implies, and the antagonistic kids themselves. Lame.
When the "action" finally ramps up belatedly in the third act, the caveat that the children can "see fear" made me sigh. So you're telling me if this guy simply sucked it up and grew a pair, he wouldn't have faced so much trouble in the first place? Don't even get me started on their backstory, which was haphazardly explained away in a few lines of dialogue.
As someone who doesn't like horror films, I just couldn't care for Citadel. I'm sure some horror buff will watch the film, love it, and flip out at me for "not getting it." Maybe. Or maybe they'll watch this and realize just how uninspired modern horror films have become.