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AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug Interviews director Ciaran Foy on agoraphobia and his new film CITADEL!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This weekend CITADEL comes to limited theaters throughout America and will soon be coming VOD for all to see. I had a chance to talk to the director Ciaran Foy about the film and how he came up with the horrors found in the film. Here’s what Ciaran had to say…
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AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hi, is this Ciaran? How are you today?


CIARAN FOY (CF): Hi, Mark. I’m really good, thanks. How are you?

BUG: I’m doing really well. I actually had a chance to catch the film late last night. Tell me a little bit about it for the people who don’t know what the premise is.

CF: Okay, well basically it’s about an agoraphobic single father who has to save his daughter from the clutches of a gang of twisted foul kids. It’s a psychological horror and whenever I talk about the movie I always call it a “half psychological horror, half autobiography” just in the sense that the main character suffers from a condition which is something that I’ve battled with myself in my late teens and early twenties. Yeah, I was eighteen and a victim of a pretty vicious and unprovoked attacked by a gang of youths and it left me with a trauma, agoraphobia. I didn’t have a word for that at the time, I was just scared shitless to even look at the front door and at the time I still lived at home with my parents and in short it was my struggle and my eventual recovery from that, a mix of my nightmares and paranoid imagination and my love of horror films that are what sort of gave birth to CITADEL.

BUG: Very cool. So making this film, was it a cathartic experience for you?

CF: Absolutely. To be honest it was kind of the writing of it was more cathartic. I mean it took five years to get off the ground with different financiers and it was pretty hard. Any time a new financier came on board, they wanted their own two cents worth of input into the script and I found that in basing the film on memories that I’d rather forget was insanely difficult to do. I found myself anchoring the main arc of the main character as I was writing it, which was… by the end I felt great. I felt empowered and all of that kind of stuff, but in the middle of the film I kind of took a step backwards and it was pretty intense. So yeah, I actually found that writing the script was cathartic and oddly therapeutic, but the shoot was like 22 days in the worst conditions possible and so it was so chaotic. We didn’t have time to think about anything else and getting that next camera setup…

BUG: Yeah, well what kind of advice did you give the main actor, Aneurin Barnard, as far as what that agoraphobic experience was like?

CF: Well we talked in depth about stuff that I would be seeing and hearing and feeling inside that wasn’t necessarily going to be obvious on screen, but things like when I thought to go outside, my eyes would start stinging and my palms would be sweating. One of the scenes when I was getting helped to getting over my condition, one of the things that I was told was people have this perspective that when you’re having a panic attack that you’re not breathing and that you need to breath, when actually it’s the opposite and you’re taking in too much oxygen and stuff like that I think really helped him to add to that mindset and I mean he would ask me a hundred questions about things and he spent some time with an agoraphobic counseling group and I thought it was a pretty intense experience and more in the prep up the shoot and the shoot was just so chaotic. In a strange way I think it helped his performance, because he didn’t get a chance to come down from that paranoid and anxious level of that state of just terrifying… We were just constantly moving to the next setup and that I think definitely helped his performance and even the fact that he was just exhausted at the end of every day and that fatigue from his body actually helped the character in the sense that he’s got that condition, but he’s also got a baby he’s got to look after and all of that kind of stuff, so yeah. I think in combination with talking to me and his own research gave him what he needed to give a good performance.

BUG: Yeah, definitely. Well as far as where the mythology came from regarding these child creatures that are tormenting this guy, where did you look for for inspiration? It kind of reminds me of the film ILLS, THEM. Was than an inspiration for you?

CF: It was funny, because people refer to this UK subgenre of hoodie films and stuff like that and I have in my heart genuinely was not referencing other movies in that sense. Really what I was trying to do was represent really imagery that I saw where I grew up and CITADEL is very much an ironic area that I grew up in. I lived in a working class area and there were obviously great people there, but also there’s a lot of youth crime and guys loitering around with hoods, with their hoodies open, and so I was referencing stuff that I had seen in my life. The guys who attacked me were wearing that attire and I guess I just wanted to twist that more into a nightmare fashion with the movie as opposed to some… I mean yes, I was thinking of things like THE BROOD. I was thinking about… there’s a great music video by Chris Cunningham called “Come To Daddy” for Aphex Twin and things like that. Those have similar imagery and a similarly palette, but it was coming from a real place and I was just referencing movies like THEM or whatever.

BUG: Well as far as the tower block itself, it seems to be quite the subtext that seems to be popping up in cinemas these days with ATTACK THE BLOCK last year, TOWER BLOCK, which just played at Fantastic Fest, and then this, CITADEL. What is it about that kind of area of the UK that seems to be such inspiration for so many films?

CF: I don’t know. I think oddly things just sort of reached the… The area where I grew up had three tower blocks and have since been demolished, which is another reason we shot in Glasgow and not Dublin, but then I guess it’s just one of those things from the late eighties or early nineties that these monstrosities that were constructed in the seventies and in some places got awards for the ingenuity of packing so many people into one giant filing cabinet, but also giving them no immunity whatsoever with no green spaces and having no… sometimes having one bus as a form of transport and if the busses were on strike, this place becomes pretty isolated and a lot of degradation happened to the point that a lot of tower block areas were sort of “no go” areas and some of them were considered dangerous places to be and I guess that for me it was, this is going to sound preachy, but I was actually looking for something that would represent the threshold of being agoraphobic, the most intimidating thing that an agoraphobic person can pass is a door and for me when it came to this vision, was a Kubrick like monolithic scary ass thing that I thought represented so much and reminded me so much of that weakness that you feel and that door’s shape worked for me and I wanted to have echoes of that in the movie where you’ve got the door, you’ve got a tower, a giant rectangle, where it’s a tomb. All through the movie, framing-wise, we kept it in rectangles and frames and stuff like that and so it was kind of looking at the environment that I know so well, that I grew up in sort of saying “What makes the most sense around here?” and I’m not sure why we are seeing this… like you say we’ve got ATTACK THE BLOCK and I haven’t seen TOWER BLOCK, but I’m not sure why there’s this resurgence of them right now. I mean these things have been lying around for years, you know?

BUG: Even DREDD 3D has it in there, and RAID: THE REDEMPTION.

CF: Yeah, it’s bizarre and isn’t like THE RAID and TOWER BLOCK, so I don’t know, 2012 is the tower block year and I’m not sure why, but it’s quite interesting.

BUG: Okay. What about the kids? How did you direct the kids? What did you tell them? How did you get them to be as menacing as they are? It seems like that would be a very fun role as a child to play.

CF: The guys that we got were all from a local school. They had never acted or anything before and so to them, each day on set was Halloween. They were giddy and excited and they got their prosthetic makeup on and they were just screwing around and oddly I found that in terms of their movement and their direction and stuff, a lot of videogame references seemed to make more sense to them than movie references and they were talking about…. I’m not a huge gamer, but we were talking about how somebody get shot with an arrow in ASSASSIN’S CREED and they were saying you twist your body and that looks kind of freaky. I was like “Yeah, that looks great.” So we talked about stuff like that and they just had a ball, but I really felt that if you were to see the rough cut of CITADEL put together, and it really informed me how movies like 28 DAYS LATER had that sense of horror and terror whether it’s a zombie or whatever, how much was sound design. The sounds the kids made might be funny if you were to hear it, but when Steve Fanagan came on with the sound design and combined foxes with big screams and all sorts of cool twisted amalgamations of things they really began to take shape and then the effects guys made their eyes glow like a dog or a cat when a flashlight hit their eyes. It suddenly transformed he characters into something which looked interesting, but was the icing on the cake, but then in directing the guys it was a challenge in the sense that it’s a bunch of kids having fun on a movie and they are playing around and all of that stuff, but once I started using video game references it seemed to work. (Laughs)

BUG: Cool. Well was that difficult for you to have them having fun with the roles with it being such a serious subject and such a personal subject to you?

CF: Not really. I mean they are kids, so ultimately you want a mood on set where everyone is relaxed and especially with kids. If a kid is in a bad mood or doesn’t want to… The character of Danny and Jeff, if they are in a mood and they know they are on set and they know that they are wearing the pounds in a lot of ways, so if they go and do something, it’s not going to happen, so you’ve got to keep that energy and that fun about it. I kind of knew that going in, because I made a short called THE FAERIES OF BLACKHEATH WOODS and worked with the little girl actress on that and again it’s more about that kind of psychology that you’ve got know that you’re capturing the right ingredients that ultimately when you’ve got that sound design, when you’ve got the grade on it, when you’ve got the vfx on it, that these kids are going to be how you imagined them to be, you know? But on set it was the more fun that people were having in that minus nineteen Celsius on set, which is freezing, so the more fun that people were having, the better for everyone.

BUG: Definitely. Well so what do you have coming up next? Now that you’ve finished this one and it’s coming out on Video On Demand as well as DVD very soon, is that correct?

CF: Yeah, it’s coming out theatrically on November 16th.

BUG: Very cool. Is it also on VOD?

CF: Yeah, I think shortly after that, they are doing the old-fashioned theatrical route and then VOD and then DVD shortly after.

BUG: Great. So what’s next for you?

CF: I’m working on a few things. I’ve got a sci-fi project, which I’m just in the final stages of signing on to, so I can’t really talk about it right now or else I’d jinx everything and get into trouble, but there’s that and then at the same time I’m reading a lot of stuff and what I’d like to do for my next project is to either collaborate with somebody or find something that I can do a pass on as opposed to started on a blank page again, since the last one took five years… (Laughs)

BUG: Very cool. Well congratulations. The film is a really great film and I’m glad it was a good experience for you putting it together. I’m glad you came out the other end. It seems like you came out the other end a much healthier person.

CF: Yeah, absolutely.

BUG: Well thanks a lot. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

CF: Thank you, Mark.

BUG: CITADEL is in limited theatrical release this week and will be available on VOD very soon! Below is my review of CITADEL!






In limited release this weekend, available soon on VOD!

CITADEL (2012)

Directed by Ciaran Foy
Written by Ciaran Foy
Starring Aneurin Barnard, James Cosmo, Wunmi Mosaku, Jake Wilson, Amy Shiels
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


Tenement horror seems to be the new craze these days in the UK with TOWER BLOCK, ATTACK THE BLOCK, JUDGE DREDD, and even outside of the UK with THE RAID. In America, we had CANDYMAN years ago, but haven’t really done anything of the sort yet, but the trend permeating around the world. I’m sure the old US of A will catch up sometime.

CITADEL is another tenement horror story, but this one, instead of focusing on a building itself, chooses to focus on one poor soul afraid to leave his own apartment. This choice to zoom in and study our main character Tommy (Aneurin Barnard, who looks a bit like a skinnier Elijah Wood) suffers a tragic loss in the first five minutes of the film, leaving him a widower, in charge of taking care of his first baby, and lastly, but certainly not leastly, an agoraphobic. This gets in the way as his baby needs essential care, but every trip to the doctor’s office is a nightmare for Tommy as he is terrorized by fears both in his mind and seemingly in real life. As his tenement building is about to be shut down and Tommy tries to move into a safer area, Tommy’s agoraphobia slows him down and becomes a real obstacle to make the necessary changes for his child.

Separating itself from the rest of the tenement stories and making it much more like Polanski’s REPULSION is the film’s focus on the paralyzing effect of agoraphobia. Director Cirian Foy shows us some extremely horrific bouts of fear in this film as the Tommy fights to get out of his door and into the world. Even before the real world threat shows up, the director does an extremely convincing job of illustrating a phobia that has not often been represented in film, and even harder to pull off. With skewed angles and shifts in focus, Foy unsettles the viewer and puts them in their own agoraphobic state, causing them to understand what our main character is going through.

The real threat in this film takes the shape of a gang of hooded teenagers who at first appear to be human but as the story goes on, these kids are anything but. With an appearance from BRAVEHEART’s James Cosmo as a wizened battler of these wee beasties, we get a bit of heavy exposition in the middle act, which leads to Tommy confronting his fears both inner and outer in the last. Though the second act is a bit heavy, the ending resonates as a story of a man facing his own fears. I preferred the first act, in which Tommy’s fears are illustrated, but the rest of the film is strong as well.

CITADEL refers to the large apartment housing unit that Tommy feels imprisoned in and director Foy does a convincing job of placing the viewer into the main characters shoes to experience every shaky moment of it. It is an effective film that does a fantastic job of making the fears of the inside play out as if we are experiencing them ourselves.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over eleven years & AICN HORROR for two. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be available on iTunes and soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK last year from Zenescope Entertainment & look for his exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81 released August-December 2012. Mark will be writing GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES to be released in February-June 2013. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.


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Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 15, 2012, 10:18 a.m. CST

    oh........the humanity!!

    by txubill

  • Nov. 15, 2012, 12:30 p.m. CST

    Even though I'll always big up a fellow Irish man this genuinely looks deadly!

    by Baron Von Penguin

  • Nov. 16, 2012, 1:24 a.m. CST

    it did have some atmosphere

    by ScaryJim

    and some decent performances but altogether felt it was another one of those financed budget UK films that seems to get a free pass in the US. The one thing we seem to do well is horribly moribund atmosphere, what we don't do often enough in UK film is follow that up with an engaging storyline. Too often these films start well then cease to go anywhere, which is a shame because at least they're getting financed. At least it wasn't Cockneys vs Zombies.

  • Nov. 16, 2012, 7:19 a.m. CST

    excellent film

    by Buffalo500

    Really enjoyed this when it showed at a recent horror festival in Dublin. Very well made and effective for a low budget film. Check it out!

  • Nov. 17, 2012, 2:16 a.m. CST

    interesting interview, very good film

    by where_are_quints_hobbit_set_reports

    loved the atmosphere... reminded me of my all-time fave horror film PHANTASM, not in specifics (though there were robed dwarves of course) but in the dream-like way CITADEL created a believable, cohesive yet fantastical world from scraps of the everyday.

  • Nov. 17, 2012, 2:18 a.m. CST

    also a brilliant depiction & evocation of anxiety

    by where_are_quints_hobbit_set_reports

    one of the best I've seen on a while. My girlfriend said, "this movie is so STRESSFUL!"