CENSOR (2021) Reviews of ‘video nasty’ horror

 

‘Don’t press play’

Censor is a 2021 British horror film about a female censor who, after watching a video nasty, sets out to solve her sister’s disappearance.

Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond (shorts: Nasty; The Trip) – making her feature debut – from a screenplay co-written with Anthony Fletcher.

The Silver Salt Films production stars Niamh Algar (Raised by Wolves, The Virtues, Calm With Horses), Michael Smiley (Come to Daddy; The Nun; Tank 432; Kill List), Vincent Franklin (Gentleman Jack, Bodyguard), Nicholas Burns (Ghost Stories, Nathan Barley), Adrian Schiller (Victoria, The Last Kingdom) and Sophia La Porta (Been So Long). Produced by Helen Sara Jones. Executive producers include Kim Newman, Andrew Starke and Ant Timpson.

Plot:

Britain, 1985. When film censor Enid (Niamh Algar) 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 that will blur the lines between fiction and reality in terrifying ways…

Reviews:

“The first two-thirds of Censor are excellent. The movie combines mystery, character development, and horror perfectly. As the film heads towards its finale, things become unraveled. The video nasty aesthetic remains but the storytelling is replaced with an over the top ending. Exactly like a movie from that period.” AIPT

“Atmospherically photographed, effectively edited, and possessing several genuinely shocking moments […] Enid confronts her fears, as well as some she probably didn’t know she had, spiraling her down to the one place horror fans never actually want to end up: living their worst nightmares. Censor is a smart, stylish, unsettling chiller with an irresistible meta twist.” The Aisle Seat

“Underneath all the style though, there’s real substance, including the danger of repression and censorship. It has a killer ending, and a blackly comic heart, with a gonzo, gore-splattered finale that could help it become a cult classic. Plus, genre stalwart Michael Smiley contributes a fun cameo as a sleazy horror producer. All in all, this is a fun ride…” Arrow in the Head

“Bailey-Bond constructs an almost nightmarish tableau. Transporting Enid into a world which blurs the lines between fact and fantasy; sending her tumbling headlong down a rabbit hole. Gradually descending into madness and becoming what she abhors. Censor is a stylish and brilliant psychological thriller where the shocks aren’t only on screen.” Backseat Mafia

“It’s a quiet introspection that builds to a mind-bending conclusion that will perplex those that prefer concise clarity […] But for those that don’t mind wading through trippy dream logic and a severe lack of hand-holding, there are many rich layers and themes to be mined. It’s intricate, gorgeous, and mesmerizing, with small strokes of David Cronenberg and Peter Strickland.” Bloody Disgusting

“Niamh Algar delivers a full body performance that is polarizingly hypnotizing and distancing. The tension she conveys could be cut with a knife. Her fellow cast are all doing wonderfully as well, providing Censor with a well rounded grouping of performances which balances out a sometimes rocky plot. The most impressive and jarring element of Censor is its sound.” [email protected]

“Rich colors visually echo the blurring Enid experiences between reality and dreams. Narrative faults then end up partially forgiven by a shock ending that’s as bonkers as it is bleak. Censor doesn’t always have the substance, but director Prano Bailey-Bond, cinematographer Annika Summerson, and production designer Paulina Rzeszowska definitely supply the style.” Culture Crypt

” …Bailey-Bond’s feature film debut would pair incredibly well […] with Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, as both films astutely examine the insidious nature of art and how it affects the lives of those who are on the outside, looking in […] Censor is crafted with pure confidence, and the way that she masterfully blends formats and perspectives has made this an early contender for one of my favorite films of 2021.” Daily Dead

“Even as the film itself warns against the numbing effect of exploitive gore as entertainment, ‘Censor’ proves that relentlessly beating the audience over the head with non-sequitur gore has a point of diminishing returns. This film’s depiction of creeping madness is so engrossing that it almost completely offsets its slavish devotion to the splatter genre.” Escape into Film

Censor is pure genre emulation at its most angering and squeamish. A combination of dedicated research and pure nefarious filmmaking, Prano Bailey-Bond displays an awe-striking amount of dedication towards what is essentially one blasphemous social critique. And I’m all for it.” Filmhounds

“The filmmakers behind Censor have masterfully crafted a film that’s an ode to living in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and its divided views regarding horror films and many other aspects of society at that time. Simultaneously, the film is more than just that. It’s about the closure that we, as people, sometimes don’t get and further try so hard to make sense of in situations that have no meaning whatsoever.” First Showing

” …Censor, despite its narrative inconsistencies, manages to be an enthralling film. One with a fantastic lead performance. Moreover, the incredible attention to detail of the 1980s time period elevates the film to greater heights. Censor is a creative cinematic experience that is an awesome homage to horrors that came before with some interesting commentary on censorship.” Full Circle

“Bailey-Bond reconstructs the uncanny, almost occult world of film itself, and, using her budget cleverly, projects the 80s from claustrophobic closeups on period detail […] With production designer Paulina Rzeszowska and cinematographer Annika Summerson, Bailey-Bond creates something almost unbearably close and oppressive, like the bottom of a murky fish tank.” The Guardian

“It’s impressive in its boldness and creativity, reminiscent of the artistic choice found in The Florida Project (2017); a contrast of overly-sweet wholesomeness with a sinister undertone, something close to Lynchian only somehow even creepier–in short, I loved it.” Horror Buzz

“Bailey-Bond has crafted a character study that may follow a few familiar fright-fare beats, but any quibbles are made up for with a gorgeously gruesome throwback aesthetic and an unwavering goal on delivering a riveting psychological shocker.” Horror Fuel

“The many in-jokes and allusions to vintage shockers should amuse fans with long memories and substantial home entertainment collections. That said, at times it’s not easy to tell if the sometimes stilted performances from the peripheral cast and bordering-on-cliché narrative moves are part of the homage or just regular weak technique. It’s possible there’s a little of both column A and column B at work here.” The Hollywood Reporter

“The wild closing moments, a mashup of brutal vengeance and delusions that complete the transition into grainy mayhem, rush past so long it’s a wonder why the movie didn’t give them room to breathe. Censor ends on a spooky note of ambiguity that feels so inevitable it’s almost as if everything leading up to it was an afterthought.” IndieWire

“Those who prefer straight-forward narratives probably won’t appreciate the utter lack of explanation inherent in this fantastical nightmare, but for those who enjoy films which refuse to be held down by logic, Censor is a masterful shredding of the mind that is guaranteed to haunt you for weeks.” Killer Horror Critic

“A horror fan’s wet twisted dream complimented by a stylistically visual world filled with dread and tragedy. With references to movies like The Ring and Evil Dead, Censor is an affected while not perfect social commentary on violence in the media influencing society.” [email protected]

“The only problem I have with the movie is the pacing during the end of the second act and the beginning of the third act. It drags and it drags really hard. I know that Prano wants to give it a very hypnotic and delirious vibe, and it does have that vibe [… I think that if that part wasn’t there and the narrative would’ve jumped to the gut-punch of a third act, it would’ve been absolutely perfect.” Mashable India

“The ending of Censor seems to conclude that cutting out violence is merely a glossing over of the truth, tidying it up into a more digestible format that isn’t reality. Prano Bailey-Bond’s film is a compelling triumph in the horror genre and an absolute must-see with a truly stunning ending.” One Room with a View

” …thanks to Bailey-Bond’s assured hand and potent visuals – punctured by Annika Summerson‘s burning, neon-soaked aesthetics – the lines between fiction and non-fiction will keep you guessing long after the final, stunning images. Mirroring the historical paranoia that these nasties would deprave and corrupt […] Censor is propulsive and thoughtful, touching and frightening on so many levels it is impossible to ignore.” The People’s Movies

“The lines between screen and actual terror become blurred in ways that keep you guessing and intrigued, and don’t strain to make a Statement. Censor isn’t after a blatant indictment, either of the connection between reel and real violence or those who opportunistically seek to make that connection, though it does offer brief, knowing commentary at a few points…” Rue Morgue

“Like other similar contemporary films – Knife + Heart, to name one – Censor draws on the genre cinema that it’s referencing, specifically the giallo style. Dream sequences and saturated colors represent Enid’s mind and her downward spiral on screen. Censor intersperses reality with the oneiric, bordering on the nightmarish, playing with the link between the real and the fictitious.” Screen Anarchy

“Most effective is the use of colour, which ranges in extremes from the dingy browns of Enid’s home and office to the increasingly disorienting strobing yellow of the projector. Not a single chink of natural light is allowed to permeate Enid’s tightly sealed world until the bombastic final reel, where appalling reality and desperate fantasy collide at breakneck speed.” Screen Daily

Censor toys with the idea that evil is contagious, and the story of a seriously disturbed woman trying to cope with a past childhood tragedy is a decent vehicle for the message. This isn’t a film that will appeal to many, but it’s worth a mild recommendation for the aesthetics alone.” Screen Zealots

“Once its initial set-up is out of the way the film can’t sustain itself for very long, resulting in a lifeless journey to a predestined finale. What keeps the film’s head above water are the occasional flashes of nerve-jangling horror […] and the film’s climactic sequences, while predictable, still manage to chill, thanks primarily to Algar’s unhinged performance.” SlashFilm

“This is promisingly juicy stuff, even though it’s quickly apparent, from the meticulously beige ’80s styling, DP Annika Summerson’s careful, muted compositions and Enid’s solitary, mournful characterization, that Bailey-Bond, co-writing the script with Anthony Fletcher, has designs for a more artful, far less creaky movie than the ones Enid watches at work — more Berberian Sound Studio than Last House on the Left.” Variety

Release:

Censor opened the Midnight strand at the 2021 Sundance Festival’s Midnight strand on January 28th 2021. More festival showings followed and the film was released in the USA theatrically by Magnolia/Magnet on June 11th 2021.

Production:

Censor was developed by the British Film Institute (BFI), Film4, and Creative England and was funded by the BFI and Ffilm Cymru Wales, both awarding National Lottery funding and by Film4, with support from Kodak Motion Picture and Cinelab London.

Cast and characters:

Niamh Algar … Enid Baines
Clare Holman … June
Michael Smiley … Doug Smart
Nick Brimble … Crowd Actor
Adrian Schiller … Frederick North
Felicity Montagu … Valerie
Sophia La Porta … Alice Lee
Nicholas Burns … Sanderson
Beau Gadsdon … Young Enid
Vincent Franklin … Fraser
Guillaume Delaunay … Beastman
Andrew Havill … George
Erin Shanagher … Debbie
Clare Perkins … Anne
Richard Glover … Gerald
Robert Vernon … Tom
Danny Lee Wynter … Perkins
Amelie Child Villiers … Nina
Madeleine Hutchins … Marilyn
Matthew Earley … Gordon
Ric Renton … Frank

Technical details:

84 minutes

Related:

More video nasty movies

Fun facts:

The Video Recordings Act of 12 July 1984 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that was passed in 1984. It states that commercial video recordings offered for sale or for hire within the UK must carry a classification that has been agreed upon by an authority designated by the Home Office. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which had been instrumental in the certification of motion pictures since 1912, was designated as the classifying authority in 1985 […] it is an offence under the Act to supply video works to individuals who are (or appear to be) under the age of the classification designated. Works that are refused classification cannot, under the Act, be legally sold or supplied to anyone of any age […] The BBFC may also require cuts to be made, either to receive a certain age rating or to be allowed a classification at all.

Wikipedia lists all the films that were on the British Department of Public Prosecutions list of video nasties and whether or when they were subsequently submitted for certification and passed by the BBFC (usually many years later and certainly not in 1985 when Censor is set).

Trailer:

MOVIES and MANIA verdict and rating:

Anyone who watches the trailer for Censor before seeing the film itself will be completely unsurprised as to the way it develops. It’s heartening that the recreation of oppressive mid-80s Britain and gutter press fuelled paranoia feels accurate although the film’s colour scheme feels more like it came from the 1970s. Unfortunately, [spoiler alert] Enid’s psychological breakdown and murderous acts are so obviously telegraphed in advance and there is no pay-off.

Strangely, the film depicts British Board of Film Censors “examiners” being publicly identified in 1985 (by which time the so-called video nasties were all effectively banned anyway, so wouldn’t have been submitted by any UK distributors for certification) – whereas they were and still are anonymous censors – and a real axe is seemingly being used as a prop on a film set at the climax. Or was this all in Enid’s deranged mind? It’s not clear and Censor adds nothing but misinformation to the legacy of the British video nasty era. Amazingly, the unfocused script for Censor apparently took three years to write…