During the ‘video nasty’ hysteria of mid-80’s Thatcher’s England, Enid Baines (Niamh Algar, HBO MAX's 'Raised by Wolves') takes her job on the British film board watching hours upon hours of sexual violence and splatter seriously. Enid believes she is protecting the public when two events threaten her own safety – she believes she identifies her missing sister in a notorious exploitation director’s work and a man who committed a horrific crime blames “Deranged,” a film she passed, and journalists have identified her as its “Censor.”
Laura's Review: B+
Expanding upon themes from her prior short ‘Nasty,’ cowriter (with 'Nasty's' Anthony Fletcher)/director Prano Bailey-Bond, makes a feature debut exhibiting a sure hand with establishing sometimes comical but often creepy period details and an unsettling tone. Those looking for narrative threads to be tied up neatly won’t find that here as “Censor” spins into literal nightmare territory in its climax, leaving us in a state as suspended as its heroine’s fractured reality. Great Britain, home of the Hammer Horrors, has been amassing an impressive stable of genre directors who lean more into art than artery splatter and Bailey-Bond appears a likely candidate to join the school of Peter Strickland, Ben Wheatley and Rose Glass.
After a cheeky assemblage of degraded video images of British film production logos, we segue into footage of a screaming woman clad in white nightgown being dragged through a forest heavily filtered in deep pinks and reds. Suddenly the image is rewound. And rewound again. In a dim and drab room, a prim Enid remarks to her colleague Sanderson (Nicholas Burns, "Emma.") that she’s trying to see just what has hold of the woman. He’s humorously dismissive, citing high minded works of art. ‘I salvaged the tug of war with the intestines. I kept in most of the screwdriver stuff and I’ve only trimmed the tiniest bit of the end of the genitals, but some things should be left to the imagination,’ she replies in all seriousness. This exchange alone lets us know we are in good hands.
Cinematographer Annika Summerson (Bailey-Bond's short 'Nasty,' "Mogul Mowgli"), working in 35mm, Super 8 and VHS, paints Thatcher’s England in murk, occasionally alleviated by the bright red of fake looking decapitations Enid rightfully classifies ‘ridiculous.’ (This use of color will turn serious in one brilliant shot where the light streaming from a projection booth turns blood red.) The period is also evoked in the dismal restaurant where Enid meets her parents (Clare Holman and Andrew Havill) and we learn that her sister disappeared as a child and that Enid cannot remember what happened. Her parents present her with a death certificate, wishing to lay Nina to rest after all these years, but Enid frustrates them with her guilt-ridden refusal to give up hope her sister may yet be found.
Sexism also permeates the atmosphere, embodied by producer Doug Smart (Michael Smiley, "Kill List," effective as always) who almost leaves a trail of slime behind as he hits on Enid while her boss Fraser (Vincent Franklin, "The Bourne Identity") stands idly by. It is Smart who’s brought mysterious exploitation director Frederick North’s (Adrian Schiller, "Suffragette") "Don’t Go into the Church" for classification and it is the film which sends Enid into a troubling spiral, its narrative suggesting what happened to her and Nina. Soon Enid’s visiting the video nasty rental outlets that she presumably abhors, searching for more of North’s work and in so doing discovers an actress named Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta) she’s convinced is the adult Nina. Even worse, a comment made by Smart suggests that in having outlived her usefulness, Lee may be slated for a snuff film.
Algar rightly plays the buttoned-up Enid straight, the early tart comments of a sharp intellect giving way to the single-minded obsession of an unraveling mind. Bailey-Bond’s film, too, makes this shift as we begin to question what is real, what is dream and what is imagined, the film’s ending a surreal blend of sunshine happiness and insidious horror, aided by the precision cutting of editor Mark Towns ("Saint Maud”). Bailey-Bond never delves into the moral panic of the video nasty controversy itself, instead using the phenomenon as a lurid backdrop for more personal psychological horror and she’s proven her filmmaking artistry with a genuinely creepy outing.
Magnolia is releasing “Censor” under its Magnet label in theaters on 6/11/21 and on demand on 6/18/21.