Interview: 'Citadel' Horror Helmer Ciaran Foy On Art Imitating Life
How do you protect your family from evil when you’re afraid of everything? That’s the dilemma facing extreme agoraphobic and father Tommy Cowley after thugs murder his wife and they decide to come back for more in the amazing new horror thriller "Citadel." (Opening up in theaters Nov. 9 from Cinedigm/New Video) The dark and tense film is the brainchild of writer/director Ciaran Foy, who is not only a big genre fan but surprisingly took a lot of the harrowing story from his own personal experience. We got a chance to chat with Foy about overcoming his ordeal by making it into a film, his style inspirations and the wonderfully inspired casting. So to celebrate the upcoming release, here’s "Citadel" helmer...
"Citadel" is an inspired genre piece – what were some of your influences writing it?
Ciaran Foy: In a weird way I describe "Citadel" as half psychological horror movie and half autobiography – my own life was more an inspiration than anything else. When I was eighteen I was the victim of a pretty vicious and unprovoked attack by a gang of youths and from that trauma developed agoraphobia. So "Citadel" was my battles with agoraphobia and my eventual recovery from it mixed with my geeky love of horror films.
Your dark, real and gritty visual style added an additional layer to the film – who are some of your filmmaking heroes?
CF: Wow – so many of them. I’ve always loved Polanski and Adrian Lyne with "Jacob’s Ladder" and Stanley Kubrick. But my two favorite filmmakers are Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, which sounds like two ends of a stick, but I guess all your heroes are constantly in your head whenever you’re making anything. Each of them has a facet about their work that I really admire.
The film is incredibly somber in tone – what was the vibe on the set while shooting?
CF: It was two things. The first was completely chaotic because we only had twenty-three days to shoot the movie. And it was the coldest winter that Glasgow had on record – it was minus nineteen most days. So we were losing locations because roads become inaccessible because of the ice and sometimes we found locations the night before shooting. But there was also an incredible amount of good will, banter and laughing on set. I’ve been on many different sets and it seems to me like the vibe on set is almost the antithesis of whatever you’re making. So if you’re making a comedy, people are probably killing each other on set. Whereas your making something like "Citadel" it was hilarious all of the time, especially when you’re dealing with somebody like Aneurin who played Tommy who really threw himself into the part. For the most part people forget when you look at it on screen, like you look at the feral kids and they’ve got sound effects on them and they’re kind of terrifying. But on the day you’re dealing with a gang of twelve year olds who are kids – it’s Halloween for them.
Aneurin Barnard who plays the agoraphobic Tommy has an incredible authenticity – what kind of research did he do for his character?
CF: In prep, Aneurin spent a lot of time with various agoraphobic counseling groups and visiting people who were suffering with the condition. There are different levels and forms of agoraphobia – mine was bad, but it wasn’t chronic. He met people who are in their late fifties who haven’t left the house in thirty years, so he was asking a lot of questions.
I also loved the sassy James Cosmo as the jaded priest – how did you come to cast him and what were the origins for that character?
CF: The origin of the character is kind of a mix of a lecturer I had in college and a little bit of my dad. My dad is a very ground, pull yourself together kind of guy and certainly when I had my spell of agoraphobia neither me or my parents had a word for it. But I also felt that there would be two types of people who would view the Tommy character – a person who would empathize and identify and those who would want to slap him. So I wanted the priest character to embody some of that sense of frustration and be the voice of the audience. James was somebody I always imagined in the role, but when you’re dealing with such a low budget, I was like, ‘We won’t get James Cosmo, but let’s get somebody who embodies that.’ And the production company had worked with James before, so they sent a script down to him. When I heard that he was shooting "Game of Thrones" in Belfast I though I’m definitely not going to get him. But he really responded to the script and he met me and we got on really well - I was incredibly fortunate to get him involved.
The building, the "Citadel" was almost a character by itself – where did you find it and what was it really like to shoot there?
CF: Again, I was sort of going on parallels of things that I grew up with and there were three towers in my neighborhood. For me it made thematic visual sense - I become obsessed with rectangles. A door for me is the ultimate threshold for an agoraphobic and it represents your greatest fear. So that shape became important to me and we tried to frame Tommy in a lot of rectangles. We really wanted that shape to be present in the film and it’s manifested in the terror and the feeling of the overbearing that it has on his life. Shooting was freezing because it was a real abandoned tower, so a lot of the windows are broken and there’s no heating. So it was incredibly cold, but on the plus side I got a lot of cool production value in terms of that cold breath. You hear stories like on "The Exorcist" how they had to encase the set in refrigerators to get that breath – I got all that for free!
What’s next for you?
CF: I’m reading a lot of material from this side of the pond and in the UK. Want to find something that I can collaborate with somebody on or is already written. What I don’t want to do is sit there with a blank piece of paper again – I’d like to make a movie faster than having another five years of writing.
"CITADEL" OPENS IN THEATERS NOV. 9 FROM CINEDIGM/NEW VIDEO