Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Citadel

Film: Citadel
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

There’s a good amount of discussion (to put it in a nicer way) in the horror movie fan community about what actually constitutes a zombie. Do they need to be undead or do they just need to exhibit zombie-like behavior? Do they need to eat their victims or just kill them? It’s the sort of thing that determines if you consider the infected in 28 Days Later to truly be zombies—they aren’t undead and they don’t eat their victims. They do, however, act like zombies and infect others like zombies. Citadel offers a similar question. The creatures here are clearly zombie-like, there’s evidence that they eat their victims, but they have much more limited ability to infect others and they clearly aren’t undead.

With Citadel, there is an additional question to answer. That question is whether or not the movie is good enough to determine what the creatures actually are. Yes, I’m spilling the eventual beans on this one at the top. Citadel has some really interesting ideas, but it fails in a lot of ways. It has high aspirations, but it’s simply not equal to them. All of this said, I’m going to call the creatures “zombies” for the rest of this simply because it’s easier, and close enough for jazz.

As the film opens, we see Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his pregnant wife Joanne (Amy Shiels) on their way to leaving a tenement building. They are briefly separated, and Joanne is attacked by a group of children. When Tommy finds her, the children have scattered and Joanne has a syringe sticking out of her stomach. At the hospital, the doctors manage to save the baby, but Joanne is in a coma. Eight months later, Tommy is the lone parent of Elsa (Harry Saunders), Joanne is being removed from life support, and Tommy is dealing with crippling agoraphobia.

Tommy discovers a few more people who will be important to him. The first is Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), a sympathetic nurse who has known Tommy because of Joanne being in a vegetative coma. She comes to Joanne’s funeral, as does a foul-mouthed priest (James Cosmo) and his young, blind ward Danny (Jake Wilson). The priest tells Tommy that the children who attacked Joanne will come for Elsa, while Marie is far more optimistic and convinced that the priest is out of his mind.

Or course, the priest is right, and the kids who attacked Joanne do return. These are not simple feral children, although that is how they are initially described. They behave very much in zombie-like ways, though, but also have some similarity to vampires (they are only active at night). And as the movie progresses, the zombie children are going to come after Elsa in an attempt to capture and turn her. Evidently, their ability to turn others feral is limited to children. It is not clear how this specifically turns them into something like zombies, makes them able to hunt by sensing fear, and more.

And really, this is the big oversight of Citadel. I don’t need a full breakdown on the anatomy and physiology of the zombie children, but something more than the spare explanation we’re given (Step 1: a woman gave birth to twins that were abandoned, Step 2: ?, Step 3: zombies!) is desperately needed. I’m more than willing to dive into any story regardless of how ridiculous it might be for the sake of the story—I’m absolutely happy to willingly suspend my disbelief, but when the driver of the plot is met with essentially a shrug, I find that nearly impossible to do. Furthermore, there is a horde of these zombie children, obviously growing by infecting other children (this is confirmed eventually), but no one seems to notice them.

There are some things that Citadel does well. It’s very claustrophobic, and I mean that entirely as a positive. Virtually all of the film takes place in a condemned tower block and it feels like an absolute ruin, something that exists after an apocalypse and after a tribe of survivors lived (and died) there 20 years in the past. It’s desolate, and that only serves to benefit the film. It feels post-apocalyptic, and I think it’s supposed to. We’re supposed to feel as if society has abandoned everything here, and we do.

But this can’t make up for the fact that much of this is unexplained, and because of it, much of it doesn’t make sense. The zombie children seem to be able to sense fear, but only sometimes, and Tommy escapes their notice more than once—despite a screaming Elsa—with no clear reason why this would be the case. And, since the movie is only 84 minutes long, it could certainly stand another 10 minutes or so for more and deeper explanations.

James Cosmo and Wunmi Mosaku deserve better than this. So do audiences.

Why to watch Citadel: It’s very claustrophobic.
Why not to watch: It’s one of those films that happens because everyone is kinda dumb.


  1. Well that doesn't sound like fun and having recently discovered Wunmi Mosaku through Loki (and she's in great form in the second season so far), I don't think I want to see her in something that doesn't do her justice.

    1. If you haven't seen His House yet, she's great in that.