CitadelOne thing you can’t expect from a small scale, independent film, is a visual spectacle, given the modest sized budget and means to achieve a distinguishable aesthetic. However what you can hope for, is a good story, as a creative mind and intelligent narrative costs nothing. Yet surprisingly director Ciaran Foy has presented quite the opposite in his feature length debut Citadel, as a film that although bearing a brilliantly dark and gloomy setting, struggles within its mediocre and unfulfilling premise.

Aneurin Barnard takes on the role of Tommy, a single father, suffering with a severe case of agoraphobia following the brutal murder of his wife at the hands of a group of disturbed and savage youths. Confiding in nurse Marie (Wunmi Mosaku) and a renegade priest (James Cosmo), Tommy seeks in overcoming his anxiety disorder, however whenever he leaves his home, he is targeted by the same group of feral kids, who now seem desperate to get their hands on his baby daughter – pushing Tommy into facing his fears once and for all.

Foy must be commended for creating such a dark and intense world, as the setting – that of a small decrepit area named Edenstown – is so desolate and bleak, as everything appears to be so filthy and gritty. You can almost smell the stench from the tower block emanating off the screen. Alongside the recently released British film The Seasoning House, as a nation we’re showing a good sign of creativity from independent filmmakers, who, seemingly aware of their financial limitations, are staying within their means triumphantly, creating disturbing and murky worlds that certainly leave a lasting effect on the viewer.

However where Citadel falls short, is within the antagonist. Though the sound design is impressive and at times the viewer is made to feel increasingly intimidated and uncomfortable by these dangerous gangs of youngsters, regrettably the over elaborate story surrounding their existence is too convoluted. Often simplicity works so much better, and had they just been somewhat more realistic as our villains, it would make the entire piece far more relatable, much like Eden Lake or the Sundance Film Festival hit In Fear have both managed. To an extent, the supernatural edge that exists works against the film, as it’s fair to say the finest moments within this title all come in the opening quarter of an hour when things are more, well, normal. That said, Foy ensures that he seals the identity and purpose of the villains for as long as possible, allowing for our imaginations to run riot, and for the guessing games to begin.

You can’t help but feel that Citadel is scratching at the surface of a socio-political message, but it’s just not quite discernible or substantial enough in its approach. There is a comment to be had on society, but given the way the story carelessly filters off into other deep and dark echelons, we lose sight of the message at hand and exactly what it is Foy is attempting to convey.

That said, there are some wonderfully creative moments, and a fantastic lead performance by Barnard carries this film at times. However sadly on the whole it’s all just somewhat inconsequential and without any real purpose. An absorbing redemption tale this may be, but one that comes with a lot of baggage.