[SUNDANCE 2021] MOVIE REVIEW: CENSOR is a Lynchian character study on the depths to where obsession can lead us.


Writer/Director Prano Bailey-Bond presents a mind-bending Giallo-tinged portrait of a repressed film censor on the edge of a nervous breakdown in Mary Whitehouse’s 1980s England.

Film censor Enid (Niamh Algar) takes meticulous pride in her work as a film censor, working to keep the hearts and minds of the youth of England free from the depravities of “video nasties,” a colloquial term for exploitation features, low-budget horror films filled with unrepentant uses of blood and gore by their distributors as a lurid fuel for would-be renters and buyers to them to make up for the absence of star power and production budget restraints. Her fellow censors consider her to be the most uptight and guarded, with little wiggle room for letting gore slip through. Her repression is baked into her character; Enid lost her sister at a young age and creates a connection between that loss and her mission to keep lurid images out of the public out of the idea that those images beget further violence.

Obsession is a key idea in CENSOR. The idea that keeping these images out of the hands of the public is a service drives Enid as her reason for being. At the same time, Enid doesn’t know what happened to her sister, she’s haunted by what she can’t remember, but can’t let go of the belief that she is still alive. However, her elderly parents are looking for closure and petition to have her declared dead in absentia, which Enid cannot stomach. This causes Enid’s mask of self-control to begin to slowly slip, especially once news breaks that a killer in England has murdered his wife and eaten her face, mimicking a video nasty that Enid and her colleagues allowed to pass their censorship process. A subsequent nasty she is reviewing suggests the circumstances that led to her sister Nina’s disappearance and before long, Enid’s obsession shifts toward uncovering whether her sister is still alive and somehow tied to her past obsession of stopping these low-budget horror producers from peddling their wares.

Actress Niamh Algar (Raised by Wolves) gives a magnetic and captivating performance as Enid in this mind-bending character study. Her shift from playing a controlled and reserved, almost cold, character, to letting her passions go to try and save her sister in an almost feral state is something to behold. Her obsession drives her to dark places but you can see the purpose behind them due to the strength of her performance.

The film’s production design and directorial eye are the film’s other strengths. Writer/director Prano Bailey-Bind infuses the film with a gorgeous color palette inspired by these classic horror films, in particular, the red Giallo hues of films like Dario Argento’s Suspiria and the dreamlike visions of suburbia in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet are used to chilling effect with their dream-like resonance. Likewise, using the language of the format, from the white noise and tracking artifacts to signal scene transitions also lends to the film’s aesthetic and makes you question as a viewer whether what you are seeing is real or imagined. The film’s closing act is chilling and a must-see, one that challenges the conventions of what you are witnessing with an unsettling vision.

Censor takes the viewer to another time and place; both in terms of being a period piece where illicit imagery was passed under the counter by video store clerks who had to size you up if you could handle the taste of the horror they were serving up, but also in terms of a world baked into those hard plastic shells. One where what lay on magnetic strips of tape could transport you to other worlds of terror if only you let it. What lies beneath isn’t something you want to watch too much of, lest it takes ahold of you.