Censor review – a film for horror lovers

Censor review 2021

Cast: Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller. Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond.

There was a time, long before the streaming boom, when the only way to see a movie was on VHS. Suddenly, you had the power the watch a film whenever you wanted. As a result, the straight-to-video boom was born, low-rent films were made for the how viewing market. This all gave rise to what was called the Video Nasties, horror films considered too “evil” or disturbing to be released or at least not without serious edits made to them.

Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature debut is a tribute to that time when our viewing pleasure was dictated by a group of censors. Enid, a censor working at the height of the video nasties scares is a timid woman haunted by the disappearance of her sister. When a film under her editing authority is implicated in a murder, her life begins to spiral out of control. 

Bailey-Bond clearly has a great fondness for this era, and memories of the time when films could be seen to corrupt your soul. In a way, this is a film made for people who don’t enjoy the cinema experience half as much as they enjoy the home viewing experience. The film feels thematically similar to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome in that it deals with the corruption of the soul through watching, and like Cronenberg, it’s a film that will leave people with various interpretations.

Niamh Algar in Censor

Niamh Algar in Censor.

Bailey-Bond along with co-writer Anthony Fletcher craft a story about someone who is losing their grip on reality, Enid is a good person if a little stern and as things start to unravel we realise we barely know her, we don’t actually know this person we’re watching unravel.

It’s fortunate that for all the trickery in editing, the shifting aspect ratios and screen blemishes, Niamh Algar is such a strong lead. Through her, we get yet another strong lead in a horror film. Britain has always had a way of making horror films that challenge what we expect and leave things open, but Algar is as strong as Morfydd Clark is last year’s Saint Maud. 

If there’s a criticism, it’s that the central mystery of her missing sister isn’t very compelling. In fact, the story of a film censor in trouble for a crime around a film released is interesting enough — the horror elements only adding to it, the melodrama doesn’t really add to the tension so much as create diversions. When the film is dealing with what viewing these films does to the censors, the film is much stronger and much more pointed, talking about the role of censorship in art, and the role of art in censorship. 

It helps that the film is only a slender eighty minutes, making it a film in the mould of those it’s referencing, moreover, it means the slow-building tension doesn’t often ebb, and when it’s time for surrealism and for gore there’s more than enough to satisfy the gorehounds in the audience.

Censor’s biggest virtue is that it is niche; it’s not a film for the mainstream. Like the horror films it’s referencing, this is a film for devotees of the genre, and that’s perfect. It’s a film that will find its audience, such as those who love the meta-work of Wes Craven or even Toby Jones starring Berberian Sound Studio. 

The best thing this film could do is to release on a streaming service or at home, it’s home belongs there where people watch it late on a night with friends and have their nerves fried by it. Savvy production companies would be wise to release this on VHS as well, for those who have the nostalgic love – and fear – of the video nasty.

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Paul Klein

Paul is Film & Media Editor @ No Majesty. Paul is a Film Studies Graduate from London, and former writer at The Metropolist.