Censor (2021) review
Fiction and reality blur in British writer-director Prano Bailey-Bond’s startling debut…
The stringent censorship of horror films that began with the video nasties scares of the 70s and 80s is perhaps a more sinister concept than most of what was depicted in the cheap, supposedly morally corruptive bits of junk the censors railed against. It quickly raised questions about what should be shown to people, and the ethical quandaries of a few people deciding what information the public receives, no matter how upsetting its content may be.
Today, the BBFC (that C now standing for Classification) rarely outright ban films. If they do, they usually have it coming, falling on the artless side of extreme violence and bubbling gore.
But that mark on horror still lingers today. Cronenberg’s 1983 body horror masterpiece, Videodrome, examined that idea that we can be changed by what we consume (and quite literally, too). Bailey-Bond’s Censor turns away from on-screen gore and looks into the eyes that stare into the television screen, reflecting it all back and taking it all in.
Bailey-Bond keenly evokes the unmistakably dirty, neon-lit atmosphere of 80s horror and without it ever turning into just another hollow pastiche.
Enid (a tremendous turn from Niamh Algar) works for a government censorship body. She sits, “examining” the latest films and advising on content to be removed. Typical notes include “Eye gouging scene to be removed,” or to trim down scenes of bludgeoning. Her targets include work by the sleazy Frederick North (Adrian Schiller), who is represented by the sleazy Doug Smart (Michael Smiley).
In the back of her mind, she wrestles with a family tragedy from when she was young that she can’t clearly remember. Out in the forest one day, her younger sister, Nina (Amelie Child-Villiers) disappeared. Her parents have given up looking but Enid’s convinced she’s still out there. Her dreams, fragmented memories of what happened, slowly resemble the dank horror she sees on screen. The dividing line between what's on-screen and what's real life is disintegrating. Perhaps the star of the show is Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s score, a thunderous cacophony of synthesiser riffs and droning, insurmountable dread.
Censor would make for a perfect double bill with Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio. Bailey-Bond keenly evokes the unmistakably dirty, neon-lit atmosphere of 80s horror and without it ever turning into just another hollow pastiche. There’s a real bite to Censor, and fans of both genre cinema and horror’s long-suffering history will find plenty to sink their teeth into.