CiarŠn Foy (Director - 'Citadel')
'A Tower With Power'
Tommy Cowley (Aneurin Barnard) lives a quiet life in a decaying apartment complex with his highly pregnant wife. The couple is attacked one day by a group of hooded young thugs, and after a shocking act of violence, Tommy is left to raise his newborn daughter alone.
So shaken by the events that heís developed extreme agoraphobia, Tommy alternates days hiding out indoors in his new flat from imagined threats and intense therapy sessions aimed at bringing him back to normalcy.
When the same hooded gang, seemingly intent on kidnapping his daughter, begins terrorizing his life again, heís torn between his paralyzing fear and protective parental instinct. With the help of a vigilante priest who has uncovered the genesis of this ruthless, potentially supernatural gang, Tommy must overcome his fears and venture into the heart of the abandoned tower block known as the CITADEL to save his family.
Winner of the Midnighter Audience Award at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, 'CITADEL' brings a fresh take to classic horror by raising the question: How can you protect your family from evil when youíre afraid of everything?
Chatting recently with the Director himself CiarŠn Foy, I first wondered, first and foremost, how on earth had he managed to get the whole tower block (that is the central feature of the film) to himself to shoot around? "We shot in a real abandoned tower block. Which was pretty eerie to be in. A lot of the windows were smashed, so it was -10F degrees indoors. Sometimes youíd hear sounds on other floors where there really shouldnít be sounds! It was like a big, urban, concrete haunted house."
'Citadel' isn't a fast-paced movie, so what were your fears for it, audience wise? "Iím a huge fan of horrors from the 70ís. A lot of the best were slow burners. They got a chance under your skin because you got to really bathe in the atmosphere of the world. Fast pace can give you kinetic energy but when you want things to create a brooding sense of dread, then you have to approach it in a different way. I felt if the audience empathize with the character and feel his jeopardy, then they will go on this very subjective journey with him. Itís still less than 90 mins in total running time, so Iím not pushing it!"
'Citadel' had the feel of an old '70s movie - purposeful? "Very much so. That decade produced most of my favorite horror films. With the exception of Jacobs Ladder, which came a lot later but feels very 70ís too. I initially had the film set in the 70ís but then budget restraints meant I couldnít design from scratch. In the end, I went with a weird hybrid of then and now, so itís very hard to pin-point exactly ďwhenĒ the film is set. Which adds to that kind of Twilight Zone anxiety of not being able to orientate yourself."
When we first see the hand at the front door the mystery truly begins - knowing that this was going to be a quick shot, but an important one, what went into its design? "I wanted the hand to stand out straight away and we did a shot with one our feral kid actors and a lot of prosthetic make-up on his hand. It just didnít stick out. Then I had the idea of using a elderly personís hand."
"Anatomically speaking, the hand in old age is very different to the anatomy of a young persons hand. So the shot in the film is actually the hand of a very elderly woman and we applied a little make-up. Immediately the hand feels different but itís hard to say how or why, when it happens so quickly."
What was the hardest part of the film to shoot and why? "The whole thing was a crazy 23 day shoot during the worst winter Glasgow had on record. We were losing locations by the day due to snow and ice, there were accidents, gangs of kids in prosthetic make-up, babies, sfx, vfx, night shoots. It all became one arduous endeavor and I would be hard pressed to pin-point one part in particular."
"Perhaps the underground laneway, where a key scene happens half way through the movie? That place was 100% real and far more terrifying to be there in real life! The entire underground pass is a mile long and constantly bends, so you can never see whatís ahead of you, or behind you. A mile! Whoever thought that design was a good idea was a lunatic!"
Man, that baby looked and acted pissed off the whole movie! "The baby was actually two babies. Two twin boys. I got lucky in one sense as both boys were very different personality wise, even at such a young age. One of the boys was so laid back and mellow, he didnít mind being on set and never cried. The other boy was the complete opposite. So by alternating them for different shots, we could actually edit a performance!"
Is it true that 'Citadel' was "inspired" by a real attack that actually happened to you?! "Yes. I often end up describing the movie as half psychological horror and half autobiography. When I was 18 I was the victim of a pretty vicious and unprovoked attack by a gang of youths who were wearing hoodies. They beat me with a hammer and held a dirty syringe to my throat."
"It was a horrible experience and the scariest part was they didnít want anything and they didnít take anything, it was just for kicks. What that left me with was this trauma that became agoraphobia. Long story short is I took my experiences and battles with this condition, my fears and my nightmares and I combined it all with my love of genre films. Citadel was born out of that."
And do you yourself still suffer from agoraphobia, much like your central character in 'Citadel'? "No, thankfully I donít suffer with it anymore. Sometimes if I feel lost in an unfamiliar area, hints of it, echoes of it, come back Ė Iím not sure you can be rid of past trauma 100%. But Iíve learned how to deal with it."
'Citadel' was a movie 5 years in the making - was that just down to funding? "Funding and re-writing based on new financiers. We were trying to get it off the ground in 2007 Ė not a great time economically speaking. Companies who had money suddenly didnít, so we hopped around a lot, trying to get it financed. It also can take an age sometimes getting the various people involved to read a draft and give back notes. So various reasons, all related to funding."
So, is 'Citadel' a "horror movie" or a "psychological horror of a movie"?! "Iíd call it a psychological terror movie. But Iím not sure that a ďlegitimateĒ genre term? So Iíll go with psychological horror."
I have to say I had hoped for, and kinda expected a bigger explosion at the end. Was that just down to budget constraints? "Budget constraints were certainly a factor but I wanted the explosion to go against type. Make it without a sense of glamour. So rather than go with the typical big orange movie explosion I wanted to make it feel gritty and real. Like how a gas explosion might go in real life - a quick flash of the flame ignited, windows smash and then lots of dark smoke."
Being that this was your first time as a feature film Director, what's next for you in the chair, behind the camera? "Iím writing a sci-fi film that Iím attached to direct. It should be announced at Cannes."
And, lastly, throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins - do you have any love for them also, perhaps? "Whatís not to like about birds that canít fly but wear tuxedos?!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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