The feature debut from Irish writer-director Ciarán Foy, “Citadel” attempts to transform mundane anxieties into the stuff of a horror film. But the initial tension of the premise dissipates like a slow leak.
Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) is trapped inside an elevator watching helplessly as hooded thugs attack his pregnant wife. Stabbed with a syringe, she goes into a coma and never awakens, though doctors successfully deliver the baby.
The film then becomes a parable of urban anxiety and the fear of fatherhood, as Tommy develops severe agoraphobia, refusing to leave his apartment while also becoming convinced those same kids are coming back for his newborn infant.
Add in a likely touch of the supernatural — Is it just my meds or are those young ruffians actually freaky zombies? — and Foy seems to have created a neat little engine for a smart indie horror movie. Yet even with its relatively short running time, “Citadel” still feels repetitive with no surprises once the story is on the table.
Turning in a strong performance, Barnard projects Tommy’s recognition that what he thinks is happening probably isn’t, helping the film immeasurably.
“Citadel.” MPAA rating: R for disturbing violent content and language. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. At the AMC Santa Monica and Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.