‘Censor’ Review: Psychological Horror in the Video Nasty Era
By Daniel Rester
Prano Bailey-Bond’s directorial debut Censor brings a fresh tale of horror to the table, exploring grief in the ‘80s era of the “video nasties” (banned horror movies in the UK). It calls to mind everything from Videodrome (1983) to Evil Ed (1995) with its style and subject, yet it doesn’t feel like a copycat. Bailey-Bond’s picture boldly focuses more on psychological horror instead of splatter horror despite the framing of the story being about a main character who is a censor for gory films.
That character is Enid Baines (Niamh Algar). She spends her days looking through upcoming horror movies that directors are trying to get a proper rating for. Her job involves trying to decide what is appropriate and what isn’t in terms of showing bloodiness versus leaving things to the imagination. Michael Smiley is creepy as a horror producer named Doug Smart who challenges her choices.
Things take a strange turn in Enid’s life when she believes a woman in one of the films looks like her long-missing sister. Her mom and dad want her to let it go as they believe her sister is dead. Enid also becomes a target for media outlets when a film she passed becomes part of a criminal case involving a serial killer.
Censor builds slowly and can be uneven at times, which may turn off some viewers, but it has a strong sense of character and atmosphere. Enid starts out a bit flat, always stone-faced when dealing with work. As the film goes on, however, Bailey-Bond and her co-writer Anthony Fletcher reveal more and more about the character and her troubled past. Enid begins to break down as her grasp on fiction versus reality begins to crack.
Algar makes a lot of this work. She believably transforms the character from stiff to sad to unstable. It would have been easy for her to make Enid too over-the-top in the film’s wild third act, but she keeps her grounded enough while delivering unsettling character choices. Even as more violence comes into play, there’s always a level of humanity to Enid.
Bailey-Bond outshines her star though. Her staging of shots and actions is often impeccable. The film is drenched with moodiness and shades of red lighting. The director holds us in a grip right up through the bizarre happy ending, which feels like Bailey-Bond showing the negative effects censors have with their “audience-friendly edit and reshoot recommendations.” Bailey-Bond’s team recreates the posters and horror videos of the era expertly too, with fictional titles like Don’t Go in the Church and Beastman in play.
Though it isn’t directed by him, Censor scratches that certain David Cronenberg-esque horror itch with its style. It’s a fascinating psychological horror film with touches of body horror, slasher horror, and tragic drama. It also has a nerdy love for video nasties and grindhouse posters. Bailey-Bond is a new horror talent to keep an eye on.
My Grade: 8/10 (letter grade equivalent: B+)
Running Time: 1h 24min