Ciaran Foy Talks Citadel, in theaters November 9th
Tommy Cowley (Aneurin Barnard) lives a quiet life in a decaying apartment complex with his 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 he's 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, he's 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 you're afraid of everything?
We recently caught up with acclaimed director of Citadel, Ciaran Foy, who suffered an experience similar to the one seen in the movie, causing him to become agoraphobic for a period as well.
Here is our conversation.
In terms of talking about what happened to you in your personal life, and where this script came from, are you happy that this incidence occurred? Are you able to look at it from that standpoint? Because if you didn't have that in your life, you certainly wouldn't have such a truthful, wonderful film...
Ciaran Foy: (Laughs) That is very true. Its weird. It's a mix. On one hand, if I was eighteen, and I was told, "You get to go through all this shit first, and then you get to make a movie about it." I don't know. At the same time, the fact that it did happen, and I was able to make a movie out of it...One that has been very well received...Then yeah, it has been cathartic and satisfying. I am very proud of the movie.
Don't you feel that the truest form of art, and the best art, always comes from a real place?
Ciaran Foy: Yeah. I agree. I think you have to find a personal aspect to any story. Hopefully I will get to make more movies. But I don't need any more trauma in my life. I don't need to experience something else on this level to go out and make a movie. But I feel that if you can find something with some universal truth, or a personal angle, no matter what the story is, it is going to be more powerful. It's that old cliché, "The best comes from what you know."
Tell me about the villains of the movie. How did you create their look and what they represent on screen?
Ciaran Foy: The boys playing the feral kids were a bunch of guys from a local school. They had never acted before. Yeah. Everyday on set was Halloween for them. At times, they almost became feral themselves. They were wild, and they were giddy. They were always kidding around. They had synthetics applied to their faces, which they liked to peel off and drive everyone crazy with. But ultimately, it was, for them, a great deal of fun. For me, shooting it, it was important for me to retain that sense of fun on set. But you have to find the tone of the film you want to make. You can keep that sense of fun while you shoot, but then you have these kids shouting, and doing these unspeakable things. You know you will have to replace that sound with something a lot more horrifying when you get into post. We started adding in foxes mixed with baby screams. We made them sound more terrifying. Then we have the FX guys make their eyes glow. Things like that, that will ultimately create something very ominous and threatening. The practical side of it is that you are on set with fifteen 12 year olds. It's about using the right psychology. Getting what we wanted from them was important in terms of not losing sight of where we wanted to end up with them.
Having gone through this experience in your own life, did you ever lose yourself to the things going on in front of the camera? Or is there enough of a gap between the fantasy and the reality of it?
Ciaran Foy: To be honest, the shoot was so chaotic. We only had twenty-two days to shoot it. So I was anxious from the point of view of deciding which camera to set up, and how many pages are we going to shoot before lunch. It was this crazy, laying the track while the train is moving sort of process. I never got that objectivity to look and feel what was actually going on around me. The only time I actually did, was when we were shooting that final scene. Tommy is looking up at that tower, and he says, "Daddy, are they gone." And then he says, "They are gone." That moment was very cathartic for me, because I had come this far since the conception of the film. There was a battle to keep that in the movie. It's hard in terms of finances to make a horror movie that is nihilistic in its point of view, and it doesn't have some sort of cynical twist at the end. I really wanted this to have a redemptive ending of hope. I wanted to have that sense of melancholy hope. To hear those words, and to see that shot, for me, writing it, the words, "Are they gone? Are they gone?" It's not just talking about those kids. It's talking about everything. The people who are actually gone, like the wife. And the fears. "Are they gone?" meant a lot to me. That was a long time on set, where there was a calm sense of, "This is the last shot that we are shooting." So we had a little bit of time, which allowed me to experience my own personal magnitude of what was happening.
It's weird. I have heard your name a lot in horror circles. But this is the first feature length film that you have made. Right?
Ciaran Foy: Yeah.
What is that experience like. To have people know your name before they know your movie? Has that been a weird experience for you?
Ciaran Foy: Yeah. I am curious and flattered to hear that. I am glad that people are talking about me. The only thing I did of note before Citadel was the short The Faeries of Blackheath Woods, which won a bunch of awards. It is what got me representation. Then Citadel happened. But it's good to hear that my name is becoming known in the genre. Yeah.
It's funny, because before I jumped on the call, I was thinking to myself, "I don't know which other movies of his I have seen." Then I'm like, "Oh, just this one." Where can we see The Faeries of Blackheath Woods? I really want to show it to my mom.
Ciaran Foy: It's on Youtube.
Oh, she's not going to watch it on Youtube. She's 70 years old. Are you ever going to put it out on DVD?
Ciaran Foy: Yeah, no one ever picked it up. It played on an ancient form the used to call 35mm. It only ever existed on that. I did digitize a version. I was working in the post house, and I put it on Youtube. People kept saying, you're crazy. You could make some money on this short. Its like, "Ah, its just a three minute short. The more people that see it the better!"
I think The Faeries of Blackheath Woods is amazing. Have you ever considered expanding it and the mythology behind it for a feature length film?
Ciaran Foy: Really? Okay...I was writing another feature, which...What I really wanted to do...The origin of the fairy myth is Celtic, and back home, this part of the countryside believes in fairy lore, and it is respected around the countryside. The Irish version of the myth is that you don't piss off the fairies. It's something that was bastardized. Everyone thinks of Tinkerbell now, when he or she think of a fairy. I very much wanted to create something that had the imagery that we'd become accustomed to. That Victorian like, very prissy innocence. I wanted to drive it on its head. I wrote my first feature film that dealt with this, and the production company that I was working with suggested that I create a three-minute version of it, or shoot a scene from the script, to create interest in it. So, I did that and it became The Faeries of Blackheath Woods. The company I was working with lost interest in it. They put it on ice. I felt that after I had made it, there was a bit of agro there. I didn't want anything to do with it. Ultimately, Citadel took over. But now, as I am starting to think about it again, I feel that it is something I could very well return to again.