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by Jay Seaver

"Counterattack the block."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: What to make of the apparent growing terror folks in the British Isles seem to have of their cities's poorer neighborhoods, at least when seen through the prism of their movies? There seem to be several "Harry Brown"s for every "Attack the Block", and I'm reasonably certain that I've seen another film with a very similar premise to "Citadel" at this festival a year or two ago. As familiar as its themes may be, though, "Citadel" is a darn good one.

The terror of the council blocks starts early; Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his nine-months-pregnant wife Joanne (Amy Shiels) are moving out where three hoodie-wearing marauders attack her while he can't escape the balky old elevator to help her. Nine months later, Tom's an agoraphobic basket case, a condition not helped when the town's crazy priest (James Cosmo) tells him that "they'll come to get her", apparently referring to his baby daughter.

Writer/director Ciaran Foy does an excellent job of creating a fear-driven urban hell, in part by using some of the standard tricks - draining the color from the picture, making every location a mess - but it's particularly clever how he squelches hope over the course of the film even though it covers a fairly short period of time. Tom's support group shrinks from something official and organized to one friend; services like the bus and even electricity become less available and reliable; and, of course, an obviously symbolic (but no less effective a horror-movie-moment for it) coup de grace. That we're told straight-up how to watch for fear makes its signs no less effective.

It's Aneurin Barnard we're expected to watch closely, and though the movie sort of gives the game away, his performance is still remarkably authentic and always at just the right level of intensity - when you've got a character defined by one strong emotion like this, the variation is what's interesting. Barnard gets Tommy from the paralysis to being almost casual and back in a believable way. It's an obvious parallel to Wunmmi Mosaku's much more optimistic Marie, and the two work well together; without a whole lot of forcing it, the story of their friendship that developed over the past few months and how it may go afterward is very clear. James Cosmo makes the priest a great opposite number for both; he bullies his way to the front of the screen with a fervor that suggests that even if he's right, he's still nuts. Jake Wilson is an especially pleasant surprise as the preacher's blind young charge Danny; he's set up as a stilted horror movie cliché but becomes more and more a real kid as the movie goes along.

For all Foy's somewhat high-minded ruminations on living in fear, he is still making a horror movie, and he handles the transitions from one kind of horror to another quite smoothly; by the time he's getting into jumps and fights and attacks, he's smoothly transition brought the audience to a place where that works. The last act transforms the oppressive dread that came before into taut suspense. It's a rather conventional horror-movie last act, but executed with thrilling precision, rewarding the attentive audience with twisted payoffs (the way it uses a baby's screams on the soundtrack is both twisted and chillingly logical for its concept) and great tension. There's not a lot of money for effects, but they are deployed quite well.

"Citadel" enthusiastically plays upon contemporary fears, even when it's supposedly trying to encourage its protagonist to be free of them. It does so better than many other films of its ilk, though - both in terms of being effective in expressing them and making an exciting movie - which makes for a great thrill ride.

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originally posted: 08/04/12 02:20:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 48th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 48th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 29-Jan-2013



Directed by
  Ciaran Foy

Written by
  Ciaran Foy

  Anuerin Barnard
  James Cosmo
  Wumni Mosaku
  Jake Wilson
  Amy Shiels

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