Plenty of horror movies use supernatural creatures to represent actual social and political issues, but the Irish thriller Citadel takes genuine societal ills and turns them into supernatural creatures, neutralizing the potential power of its gritty real-world setting. The story starts out as a bleak urban drama, with young father-to-be Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) witnessing his pregnant wife being brutally attacked by a gang of young hoodlums. She dies and leaves behind a newborn baby daughter, whom Tommy must care for while living in abject fear in the dilapidated slums still haunted by feral youths.
Tommy’s extreme post-traumatic stress disorder makes for some affecting drama in the movie’s first half, but once he hooks up with a crazed priest (James Cosmo) and discovers the true nature of his wife’s attackers, the movie becomes harder and harder to take seriously. By literally dehumanizing its antagonists, Citadel not only muddles its political message but also undermines the gravity of its main character’s circumstances. Tommy bravely fighting back against paralyzing fear amidst soul-deadening poverty is haunting and intense; Tommy fighting mutants alongside a priest carrying plastic explosives is just silly.