Citadel recently premiered at the SXSW Film Festival to near universal praise. The Irish/UK co-production is directed by hot new writer-director Ciarán Foy. The film features Aneurin Barnard (Ironclad, Hunky Dory, Guinea Pigs) in the lead role of Tommy, alongside Scotland’s finest, James Cosmo (Braveheart, Troy, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Runway) in the role of The Priest, and Wunmi Mosuka (I am Slave, One Night in Emergency) as Marie. Co-stars include Ingrid Craigie and Amy Shiels.
I recently hopped on the phone with Foy to discuss the film, including the intense personal experience that provided the genesis for one of the film’s central themes.
“The dilapidated suburbia of Edenstown casts a shadow over Tommy Cowley’s life. Trapped there by his agoraphobia since his wife was fatally attacked by twisted feral children, he now finds himself terrorized by the same mysterious hooded gang, who seem intent on taking his baby daughter. Torn between the help of an understanding nurse and a vigilante priest, he discovers that to be free of his fears, he must finally face the demons of his past and enter the one place that he fears the most…the abandoned tower block known as the CITADEL.”
Check out the interview after the jump! You had the premiere at SXSW last night. How’d it go?
Good. The evening is a bit of a blur, so I’m excited to hear what people really thought.
Well I wasn’t there, but it seems like the online response has been really strong.
That’s great. Fantastic to hear.
I understand that a lot of the film’s inspiration came from a bout with agoraphobia that you had earlier in life.
Yes. In my late teens I was beaten with a hammer and had a dirty syringe held to my throat by a gang of kids who were no older than 13 or 14 years old. The scariest thing about it for me was that they didn’t want anything. They didn’t take anything. There was absolutely no provocation for what happened. But they left me with a psychological scar and a trauma which eventually became agoraphobia. I didn’t have a word for it when I was housebound at the time, I just knew that I was completely scared sh*tless to walk outside. So it’s my battles with that, and my eventual recovery from it, that were the catalyst for the film.
So the feral youths in your film are sort of an extrapolated from the motive-less evil you experienced?
Yeah. I didn’t want to make something that was saying that all youths were bad, though. I wanted permission to explore a fictitious world. But by using something that happened to me as a catalyst, and by adding genre elements to the mix and making them feral, inbred mutants I could make the film exclusively from the point of view of an agoraphobic. Because If I made the film were more reality based, it would be slightly irresponsible to just say normal kids are evil. As time moves on, and you understand the situation, you realize there are socioeconomic reasons for certain things and reality is a lot more complex. But I wanted to make the film more from my point of view as a scared 19 year-old. Using what happened as a catalyst, and then have some fun with it.
You had a 23-day shoot on this film, but it doesn’t look rushed at all. How did you pull that off?
Yeah. It was a courageous shoot. It was 24 days but we were shooting for a week before the snow hit and so we had to go back and re-shoot a couple scenes so they made sense in terms of weather continuity. Also, the fact was that the ice was making certain locations inaccessible was forcing me to rewrite in the evenings and find new locations. As a first time filmmaker, my crutch was my storyboards and I had to throw those out the window. I had to dance on my feet with my DP and my actors and cut it on the spot in my head. It became a very fast-moving shoot that had a lot of energy that I actually think is transferred to the screen. And it helped Aneurin, who plays “Tommy”, get to a place of paranoia and intensity that he literally didn’t have a chance to come down from because we were just moving so fast. And that nervous tension actually helped the overriding intensity people feel from the movie.
I’ve also read that Hitchcock was a big influence on you. Any others?
Well I was raised on Spielberg, Cameron and Lucas. And I’m a huge Spielberg fan to this day in terms of his staging and blocking and they synergy between camera and actor. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who has quite the same mastery of their craft in that regard.
But in terms of directly influencing Citadel, I’m a massive fan of Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder. It gets under your skin and stays with you after. It’s not just cheap scares. I’m also a big fan of Cronenberg, particularly The Brood. In terms of generic horror antagonists, so many movies have zombies and vampires and werewolves, but feral kids creep me out. So the idea of that in The Brood certainly creeped me out. Also Chris Cunningham’s videos for Aphex Twin.
Any specific plans for your next feature?
A lot of stuff in embryonic stages. At the moment I’m doing a sci-fi short. I’d also love to find a writing partner. By far the hardest part of making Citadel was the writing. The writing went on for five years.