Censor Review

Video nasties, what a throwback they are. Low-budget, exploitation horror films. Shlock and gore content with a cult appeal. Censor hopes to utilise that feeling, that mood, with something a little more streamlined. Prano Bailey-Bond directs their feature debut with unwavering confidence in their own style. Damned are those that think they could improve this Niamh Algar-led story by fixing the frame or changing the tone. Bailey-Bond and her casts’ sincere confidence in this work is the driving force behind not just its unique creativity but the well-rounded confidence on display. Confidence is key in a feature like this, but it does not always unlock the door of quality.  

Behind the door that opens Censor is Enid Baines (Algar), a film censor in charge of rattling through disturbing footage day in and day out. With a host of recognisably British TV filler actors lining the supporting cast, Censor has that nice balance between recognisable ensemble and integrally well-cast characters. The debate between artistic license and what is and is not legally shown to the public is an interesting dynamic taken up and championed by Bailey-Bond. There is a real fascination here dedicated not just to the censoring process but to the effectiveness of screenings. Pristine rooms that, thanks to a modicum of features presenting it as rooms for smoking and silence, look visually different and express emotions unlike that of the expected image.  

Ironically enough, Censor is unable to capture the real delights or fears of the exploitation, video nasty genre. When it tries to do so, it must do it in a manner that retains the sentimentality and emotional range of the lead, while also providing happenstance occurrences for death and disaster to occur. It is a staggering blur of meanings, and while it is the only clear way around such problems, it is not a strong solution. Michael Smiley and Nicholas Burns are solid draws for the supporting cast, their work on Spaced and Benidorm respectively not forgotten by the stalwart watchers of light British entertainment. Their step into the fold of horror has been an exciting one, especially given their talents. They bolster Algar’s leading role, which has a stern bite to it amid all that 1980s-led sexism and devolution of British life.  

There is an ability found within this feature to adapt so cleanly and effectively to a dangerous portion of the 1980s. Boredom at its heights, the job of a censor seems to be holding out hope as the Miner’s Strike rages on and the bleak ensemble of wooden furniture and pale telephones ring through. At its best, Censor feels like a confident and competent extended episode of Black Mirror. It gets too twisted and convoluted for its own good, but the set-up and iconography of a bleak and systematic British city are far too good to pass up on. Dark, grim and with a real love for the gore it looks to censor, Censor is effective in its early moments but can’t quite handle the comedown that features after its rise and rise through mania.  

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