Irish director Ciarán Foy is the man behind the new low budget horror film, Citadel. I’m a few minutes late to our interview, and I apologize immediately. Foy doesn’t seem to mind a bit; he is very relaxed. “I was finishing up a photo shoot.” He’s just arrived in New York from Chicago, and in just a few days he will be in London. Foy is touring the festival circuit with his new film, and since scoring the audience award at SXSW, its very first screening, the reaction all over the world has been amazing. “The more I’ve gone around the world with it, the more I’ve been surprised,” he tells me.
Citadel tells the story of Tommy, a young man who is living with his pregnant wife in an impoverished area of Ireland. One morning, his wife is violently attacked by a group of hooded youths, stabbed several times with dirty needles, and left bleeding in the hallway of their apartment complex. Tommy fails to defend her, but their baby survives the attack. Horribly traumatized by the loss of his wife, and now afflicted with agoraphobia, Tommy is now struggling to raise their daughter on his own in another nearby apartment. But the children that assaulted his wife find him again, and now, Tommy is noticing something about them that can only be described as inhuman.
“I aimed to tell a story that was half a psychological horror, and half a biography. When I was 18, I was the victim of a vicious attack and it left me with the same condition as the character: agoraphobia. So I took my nightmares and my love of the genre and I turned it into this.”
You can sense how personal the film is. Although there is quite a bit of the supernatural, it’s very obvious where the biographical elements are driving the story. Especially when the monsters are layered onto the psychological trauma Tommy has endured. As the things begin to crash violently into the life Tommy is trying to hold together, it is not only very feasible that the monsters are a symptom of his illness, but heavily suggested that they may be nothing more than hallucination.
“When we developed the monsters, I was actually referencing imagery from my own life. The guys who beat me were 14 year-olds in hoods. And so that image was very frightening for me, they became monsters naturally. I wanted to play with their ambiguity as well. Are the monsters real? Is it all in his head?”
Although this doubt of Tommy’s reality is prevalent throughout the film, part of why Citadel works as well as it does is the complete left turn it takes from the other films that the first act will remind you of. It goes much further than Ils or The Strangers, and has much more in common with The Brood than any claustrophobic, tiny killers movie.
Foy does not deny the Cronenberg influence, and he’s flattered by the comparison. “I love early Cronenberg,” he tells me, excitedly. So I ask him about how the horror genre is viewed in Ireland.
“There’s actually been a lot of horror coming out of Ireland in the last few years. The Irish film board has gone through a lot of changes, and they never used to support genre film. The previous generation of filmmakers grew up on catholic conservatism and Irish history. We grew up on VHS, even though we’re from Ireland. I grew up on the same influences and movies that kids in the UK and in the states were watching. The cool horror of the 80s.”
He tells me his next film is going to be a Science Fiction feature, which I’m looking forward to. Despite its very low budget, Citadel was extremely effective and entertaining. It showed a lot of promise. However, this new sci-fi film is going to have a much larger backing. “I can think of countless examples of low budget horror working really well, but not so much with sci-fi. Fear can be generated by just turning off the lights, the dread is in the dark itself. I’m looking forward to having a little more money to play with.”
I push him for more. Foy chuckles, and confesses one last thing.
“I can’t say the title, but I’m itching to start working on it.”