Taking place during the Thatcher era in Britain, Censor follows Enid (Niamh Algar), a film censor who suffered a traumatic event in her youth with the disappearance of her sister. Having tried to put the events of her childhood behind her, she spends her days pouring over graphic horror films (or ‘video nastys’) in an attempt to keep the youth of this generation safe from becoming tainted by them. However, when a film calls into question whether or not her sister is still alive, Enid embarks on a journey to find out the truth about her whereabouts and discover what really happened back then.
Co-written and directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, Censor is a mind-trip that both horrifies and intrigues. Set in the mid-1980s, the film explores the relationship between reality and fiction by blurring the lines between them. While Censor may not be the most tightly written horror film of late, it may be one of the most creatively constructed. Through her use of set design and lighting, Bailey-Bond ensures that the viewer never separate the real world from the films that Enid consumes each day. In each scene, she visually infects the most innocent of moments with a sense of menace and dread. Red tints bleed into the restaurant as she eats with her parents. Hallways are diseased by shadows and silence as she walks home from work. What’s more, as Enid’s mind becomes compromised, Bailey-Bond edits the scenes to feel increasingly like footage from old 1980s VHS tapes and films. In doing so, Bailey-Bonds drags the viewer into the video nastys themselves, further breaking down the barriers of reality.
During that particular period in British history, the belief that the dark side of culture was being shaped by the violence in these video nastys was prevalent. Tasked with ‘protecting the youth’, the role of the censors was viewed as incredibly important yet the link between violence on screen and reality has never been conclusive. As Enid’s consumption of the nastys reshape her memories, the film begins to suggest the presence of horror films stems from the darkness of the culture itself, as opposed to the other way around. It has been said that horror films mirror the fears and anxieties of our culture and Censor puts that idea on full display. Although it was believed that it was the genre that was creating monsters, the film points to the fact that it actually sheds light on the monsters that already exist. In other words, brutal violence, abuse of women, and more weigh heavily may within this genre but they also present an opportunity to speak to the demons of our culture.
At the same time, the film also calls into the question the fragility of our memories. While the film never explicitly blames her work for Enid’s breakdown, there is little question that it plays a role. For Enid, the role of the censor is essential and she immerses herself in her job. However, when she comes across a video that triggers her memories of her sister, she slowly begins to come apart at the seams. Due to the traumatic nature of the events of her childhood, Enid struggles to put together the pieces of long ago and the violence inherent to these films seem to provide answers to the questions she carries with her. (“You’d be surprised what the human brain can edit out when it can’t handle the truth,” she’s warned.) As a result, Enid almost wants to see reality within the fiction that she consumes. However, on her quest for truth, Enid gradually and increasingly struggles to be able to separate them from one another. While the pain of her story matters, she is unable to fully reconcile the truth of it within her mind.
Visually impressive, Censor should offer the type of gory mystery that horror buffs crave. Bailey-Bond gives the film is a raw feel that seems authentic to the era yet never betrays the story that she wants to tell today. As Enid’s journey devolves into increasing madness, so too does the film itself become more murky along the way, forcing the viewer to decide what is real and what is just ‘nasty’.
Censor is available on VOD on Friday, June 18th, 2021.