One of the number one pieces of advice fledgling filmmakers receive is “work from what you know.” Ciaran Foy seems to have taken that to heart with his feature film debut Citadel, even if it meant revisiting a tragic and haunting period of his life.
Citadel, opening in New York City tomorrow (November 9th) and Los Angeles (on the 16th), concerns a young man named Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) who suffers a brutal attack from a hooded gang and is left to raise his baby daughter alone. He develops agoraphobia and until, one day, the gang returns and he is forced to step out beyond the safety of his tenement to take them on.
ShockTillYouDrop.com spoke to Foy about his thriller and what made the process of developing the project so personal for him.
Shock Till You Drop: This project’s origins stem from a personal experience for you, yes?
Ciaran Foy: I describe this movie as half psychological horror and half autobiography just in the sense that, when I was 18, I suffered a vicious and unprovoked attacked by a gang of youths that left me with agoraphobia, which was a condition I developed. I was house-bound at the time and I was still living with my folks. There’s a lot of Citadel in me and where I grew up and the landscape of where I grew up. What I wanted to do was explore my battles and eventual recovery from that – put it into a pot and mix it with my geeky love of horror films.
Shock: How difficult was it to instill your own personal experience with agoraphobia into your lead actor? Was it easy to convey to him?
Foy: In the casting process, to find the right Tommy, I wanted to find a young guy. Aneurin was 22 at the time we shot this. But he had to embody a sense of darkness and, I guess, a form of weakness but we had to empathize with him. I found out, with a lot of young guys who are actors, they’re kind of winners and they’ve always been winners. They haven’t had much failure or darkness in their lives. Aneurin had a similar background to me and straight away, there was a different weight to his audition. He seemed older than he was. So, there was common ground from the start. And, in the process, he grilled me to talk about stuff I’d be feeling when I had a panic attack. In pre-production, he attended a lot of agoraphobic counseling groups. All of that made it a shorthand when we got to set.
Shock: The locations you chose were stunning – was it completely spractical?
Foy: Its inspiration came from either areas I grew up in or areas from back home that have become completely neglected. It was a practical environment, but there was a lot of painting out of cars and houses in the distances – windows were filled in to give an abandoned feeling. But it was a real place. The tower we shot in was different from the street Tommy lived in so we comped in the towers behind his house because I wanted that ominous rectangle looming in the distance – a tomb or representation of a door watching over him.
Shock: Can you talk a bit about the “threats” of the film – these hooded creeps…
Foy: I get asked a lot if I was referencing other “hoodie” films, but quite geniunely I was referencing the imagery I grew up with. The guys who attacked me – I was beaten with a hammer – they were wearing hoodies. I was drawing on that, but I wanted what was beneath that costume to be more threatening than a regular person. There was a lot of design done and we had drawings that came from various elements – people whose bodies had been transformed by crystal meth and stuff like that, combined with old people and various feral-related things – cat’s eyes and hyena teeth. I’m sort of sad we didn’t have the budget to truly bring to life the horrifying concept art we had, but Paul Hyett – who did our FX – did a great job.
Shock: Now that you’ve explored a bit of your past, is there more to tap? Do you want to delve a bit deeper with another genre film?
Foy: The writing of Citadel took a toll on me and it ultimately took five years to get off of the ground with various partners coming in. But, bathing my mind in scenarios that were difficult to go back to was incredibly difficult but cathartic. In some ways, I felt I was echoing the journey of the main character so, by the end, I felt empowered and in control of things. What I’d love to do is have a little bit more fun with whatever I do next. I’m writing something right now which is based on a previous existing draft – a science fiction film. I think there will be an announcement soon.