As horror flick Citadel creeps into Irish cinemas, we catch up with writer/director Ciaran Foy for a quick Q&A.
1. You've written and directed quite a few short films, how daunting is it to take on the task of your first feature, both as a writer and director?
I never really felt daunted by the task, more excited by the opportunity. Making feature films is what I've wanted to do my whole life and there's a first time for everything. There's an inherent anxiety that comes with any unknown and I knew it was a highly ambitious debut and contained all the "do not do's" of a low budget feature film, so I expected that no matter what I did to prepare, it would be a baptism by fire - which it was. In the end, what I realised was that making shorts was the perfect way to prepare for a feature. Features are just a much longer and more arduous version of them. They're more of a marathon than a sprint and you have to pace yourself accordingly.
2. There has been a lot reported on the fact that the movie was based on personal experience. Did you find it cathartic to make this movie, about something so personal?
I've always described Citadel as a half psychological horror, half autobiography. The autobiographical part stems from my own battles with agoraphobia in my late teens and early twenties, which was the result of a violent mugging I endured at the hands of a gang of youths, who beat me with a hammer and threatened me with a dirty syringe held to my throat. I was eighteen at the time. Following the attack I remained house bound but I didn't have a word for the condition I was suffering with. Later that same year I got a letter to say I was accepted into The National Film School of Ireland... I needed to find a way out. Long story short I began to play around with the idea of a script idea that would fuse the experiences I endured and my life long love of genre films. Citadel was born out of that fusion.
It was cathartic but only in the writing stages to be honest. The shoot was just too chaotic. We had 23 days to shoot. There was no objectivity. It was just get the camera set up for the next shot. To write the script, I had to bathe my mind in certain scenarios and situations you'd rather forget. Ultimately, it was something I felt in the midst of it, I felt I was taking steps backwards, but eventually it became cathartic in a sense that I almost started to echo the arc of the main character. At the end of it, I felt quite empowered and in control of things, and I was able to hold in my hands something I created that allowed me to be the master of those fears and memories. So writing the screenplay was oddly therapeutic.
3. You got an absolutely fantastic performance out of your lead actor, Aneurin Bernard. Can you tell us a bit about how settled on how the character of Tommy was to be played; did you already have it locked down in your mind, or did Aneurin add anything to the mix?
On the page, there was a lot of me in Tommy but I was conscious that I wanted him to be a separate character onto himself. This is something I collaborated intensely with Aneurin on. He really made the character his own and threw himself into the role. He would pick my brain on a daily basis about agoraphobia, what was going through my mind during a panic attack, what was I hearing, thinking... But he brought a lot of his own experiences to it. He also spent a lot of time in prep with people who suffer with chronic agoraphobia.
4. Did any particular horror films or directors inspire you for how you wanted Citadel to look or feel?
I think all your heroes are somewhere in the back your mind whenever you make a film, even in very subjective ways. You'd probably never think of the names Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg or Chris Nolan, for example, looking at Citadel... but their work was inspiring me all the way, as it always does. Specific to horror, I would say I took the biggest inspiration from David Cronenberg, particularly his film "The Brood". Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick and Chris Cunningham were other influences and certainly Adrian Lyne's "Jacobs Ladder" was a huge tonal influence as well. The video game "Silent Hill" (itself influenced by Jacobs Ladder) was something I played a lot of during the writing phase. In the end, I didn't want to copy any particular style but let the film be what it wanted to be, with the time and money I had to make it.
5. Do you have a favorite horror movie of all time?
Jacobs Ladder had the biggest impact on me. Few horror films scare me but that film leaves me paranoid. Jaws is the one I enjoy rewatching the most.
6. There have been quite a few "hoodie horrors" lately, but unlike movies such as Eden Lake or Them, Citadel takes the plot into a more supernatural direction. What made you take the movie in that direction?
I wanted to create a nightmarish world, not specific to any place or time, that would be honest to the way I viewed the world as a frightened 18 year old. From that standpoint I knew I wanted it to be a highly subjective experience. I wanted to literally put the audience inside the paranoid mind of someone with this condition. Let them see and hear what they hear. Agoraphobia is such an irrational fear that it almost requires you to veer into the fantastic. You're hearing things that aren't there, seeing things in shadows that aren't there... to let that play out as an objective regular drama wouldn't of worked as well. Also I wanted to create a creature that was blind and could see fear. Firstly, to give myself permission to tell the story I wanted to tell, as opposed to saying these are regular kids – like they are in the films you mention. And secondly, to allow the story to play out more as an allegory about the nature of fear, self-belief and fatherhood.
7. The "hoodie horror" subgenre brings with it some negative reactions from audiences who may believe these kinds of films are generalizing kids and teenagers of a certain social or economic background. Whats your stance on that?
In Citadel, the antagonists are inbred feral mutants that are blind to the world but can see fear. They're not kids. So there is a huge difference there! I think every work of horror, from fears of sexuality in Victorian literature, to fear of communism in the 1950's, rape and aids in the 80's etc. all tapped into the general public fears and anxieties of their time. Horror has never been known for being political correct in that context. It wouldn't work if it was. It's purpose is to provoke, to shock, to do what it says on the tin and to horrify. That all said, it does slightly annoy me when I'm watching a film and overtly middle-class characters find themselves being hunted down by overtly working-class characters or kids. I come from a working-class background and I was very conscious that I wanted my lead, Tommy, to share that. Tommy comes from this area. In fact everyone in the story does. The character of Danny is a kid from the neighbourhood and he is one of the good guys! I just wanted to create a fresh feeling horror film, set on a fictitious council estate with working class characters . What people wish to read into it is their own opinion. As the great Oscar Wilde once said "All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril"