Starting with a warning of strobing lights, violence, and gore, Prano Bailey-Bond’s directorial debut, Censor, takes a deep dive into the atmospheric 80s video nasty’s scene and the era of video censorship.
Set when society was on the verge of hysteria over the dangers of violent images in film and television, a film censor, Enid (Niamh Algar), takes pride in her work guarding unsuspecting audiences against the detrimental effects of watching disturbing imagery like decapitations and eye gougings. Enid is assigned a new disturbing movie to review and censor from the archives, but she connects with the film as it echoes the clouded memories of her childhood. What follows is a descent into the bloody madness and obsession of a woman trying to complete the puzzle of her past.
Censor takes influences from 80s horror aesthetics with homages to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981-92) series with a slight touch of Dario Argento’s stylistic and colourful direction. It feels artsy, a bloody and mind-twisting love letter to the films and video nasties from the time of exploration in gore, violence, and bloody imagery. It also constructs an 80s-reminiscent, tension-filled, and foggy atmosphere with excellent production design, sound design, cinematography, and score. From unpleasant moments to claustrophobic close-ups, this film delivers its necessary dose of eeriness and dread.
A key aspect of the film that holds it all together is the dedicated performance by Niamh Algar, playing a woman who gets possessed by the film that resonates with her past traumatic experiences. It is a character study around her and how she manages to dive deeper and deeper into who made the film. She truly gives it her all and manages to excel by blending clever humour with desperation.
One minor issue that the film has is the meta-commentary of horror films and their effect on our daily lives. The film states: “People think I create horror. Horror is already out there; it’s in you.” Audiences may interpret this commentary differently, but at times it confuses you with what it’s trying to say. One way of seeing it is that no matter how many times you close your eyes to the horrors that reality brings, it will not make them go away. It will not make your past experiences or traumas go away.
Bailey-Bond delivers gentle strokes of Cronenberg, Raimi, and Argento with flair and confidence. Her work is mesmerizing, intricate, and beautifully shot with a well-selected colour palette. She finds a way to obscure reality and fiction to uplift the movie, even at its weakest moments. Like most video nasties, Censor is a film that will not captivate everyone, but if you are up for a bloody and gory ride, it is an entertaining and horrific watch. In the end, this is a horror film about horror films, a love letter to the 80s era of horror filmmaking, and Prano Bailey-Bond does it in a stylish, unsettling, and gripping way.
Censor was preceded by the director’s short Nasty (2015).