Reviewed by: Jeremy Mathews

"Running a tight 84 minutes, the film still feels like an epic journey into both its seedy world and its heroine’s psyche."

Beheadings, eyeball-gouging, torture — these are just typical parts of Enid’s work day. It’s 1985, and Britain's at the height of social hysteria over video nasties. Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor looks at the era with a deadpan eye that’s willing to chuckle at the silliness of the genre while also delving into the terror and outrage in which it revelled.

Played by Niamh Algar, Enid acts like the most professional and clinical of all her colleagues while reviewing shocking horror content, watching the grossest and/or most shocking material unflinchingly while taking detailed notes. But we’re dealing with a psychological odyssey here, so she’s destined to be thrown off her game.

Two factors disturb her routine. First, a gruesome murder was allegedly committed because of a film that she cleared for release, leading to public outrage and internal probes. Second, she thinks she recognises her long-lost sister, who disappeared when they were children, in one of the nasties. To make it even more mysterious, the movie in question brings back long lost memories of what happened when her sister disappeared. This prompts Enid to go deeper into the world of video nasties to find the enigmatic director behind the movie.

In her feature debut, director Bailey-Bond shows a sure-headed confidence and eye for detail. She creates a satirical nightmare world with a mix of sterile and grimy locations, moody lighting and a genuine affection for the audio-visuals of the VHS era. Running a tight 84 minutes, the film still feels like an epic journey into both its seedy world and its heroine’s psyche.

The film has a bit of a kinship with Peter Strickland’s 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio, which starred Toby Jones as a sound designer on an Italian giallo horror film. Like that movie, Censor takes place during a particularly bizarre and creepy era of movie-making, and becomes increasingly surreal as its main character descends deeper into the world of their genre. Censor, however, takes on a broader scope. Enid’s journey takes her beyond personal and work life, as she descends into the different stages of a mysterious underworld on the way to a gut punch of a climax.

That said, the movie also has a tendency to get lost in its own intrigue. Bailey-Bond sometimes becomes so involved in skirting between genre and reality that the narrative loses its compass. Without a purely logical plot or a purely nasty aesthetic, it definitely requires an audience that is willing to go on its journey.

Algar keeps things on track, however, with an intense dedication to her character. It’s the kind of performance that juggles multiple layers of veneer: Enid puts on a face for work, sure, but she also puts one on for herself. And since Bailey-Bond and her co-writer Anthony Fletcher aren’t interested in identifying clear cause-and-effect, we’re left with a character whose mystery deepens the more we know her.

Reviewed on: 25 Aug 2021
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When film censor Enid discovers an eerie horror that speaks directly to her sister's mysterious disappearance, she resolves to unravel the puzzle behind the film and its enigmatic director – a quest blurring the lines between fiction and reality in terrifying ways.
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