VOD film review: Censor
James R | On 23, Sep 2021
Director: Prano Bailey-Bond
Cast: Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller
Video nasties. The phrase today comes with a side order of nostalgia more than scandal, recalling the days when censors were under pressure to clamp down on the more graphic end of the horror spectrum. Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor takes us back into the 1980s, and puts us in the shoes of Enid (Naimh Algar), a censor who is at the cutting edge of classification – and seems to have a stomach for even the most disturbing violent images. But when a real-life murder is linked by the frenzied media to a film she cut and classified, things begin to spiral out of control.
Bailey-Bond makes her feature directorial debut with this dizzyingly well-crafted thriller, and it’s assembled with the precision that Enid brings to her work – a gloriously evocative time capsule of several decades hence, full of sickly unease and haunted by the horrors that Enid sees on screen but which are mostly kept out of our sight.
That judicious use of sound to unsettle us at home recalls the wonderful Berberian Sound Studio, and the two films share an appreciation – if not a fetishisation – of the medium of film, and how immersive film’s darkest genre can be. While there’s threat and trauma to be found in grubby corners of cinema, there’s also catharsis and an escapism that can become all-consuming.
The wider questions of how influenced life can be by art is echoed neatly by Enid’s own attempts to confront her family history – a mystery she turns to horror to solve, and finds a tantalisingly plausible answer between its flickering frames. But as reality and fiction increasingly dissolve into each other, what emerges is a fascinating descent into the realms of memories and perception – subjective forces to be reckoned with, even for Enid’s occupation in an ostensibly objective field.
Anchoring this wonderfully unnerving experience is an excellent cast. An enjoyably sinister Michael Smiley brings a sleazy menace to the most casual conversation, while Niamh Algar, who impressed in Calm with Horses, delivers a phenomenal star turn. She brings sympathy and vulnerability to a character who is, at least initially, introverted and repressed – a passive viewer of cinema who grows to become an active agent in its narratives in boldly unpredictable fashion.