Director Prano Bailey-Bond creates an ode to the 1980s and horror films of the era with Censor. Fans of the video nasties, as they were called, will certainly love the visual references and call outs of the genre. However, the film struggles to find its footing between the story of Enid (Niamh Algar) and the descent into the genre itself.
Enid is a film censor, someone who monitors horror films for excessive gore, rape, and murder. Bailey-Bond, in her debut feature film, perfectly captures the paranoia of a time when anything in media that depicted such gratuitous scenes weathered the blame for the increase of violence amongst teens. While Enid examines her latest assignment, the film “Don’t Go Into the Church,” she recognizes events depicted in the film as similar to the ones when her sister disappeared years before. This realization sends her into a spiral of grief, denial, and horror as she soon loses sense of what’s fiction and what’s reality.
The shift in the film as the genre of the video nasties begins to take over is abrupt, and we lose Enid in her own emotional investigation too quickly. The character is difficult to grab onto and what we can glean from her is in credit to Algar’s performance, who depicts Enid’s descent effectively.
The elements of Censor never fully converge to become a cohesive picture. Despite this, Bailey-Bond’s love for the genre clearly shines through. While the film seems to side with the censors and public opinion about how violence in real life is triggered by violence in media, there’s no actual condemnation of video nasties themselves. Mostly, that condemnation is reserved for the directors who decide to depict such images, as well as for the public who sees reality in some of the sillier examples of such films.
Censor reaches its highest peaks in the strong third act as it explores how grief can consume us to the point of losing oneself to a different reality. Even if Enid’s story is rushed, that sentiment is recognizable enough for the ending to have an impact. The journey getting there just takes a little while, but perhaps that’s where Censor’s truth really lies—grief is a journey, and we all make it to the other side, in one way or another.
Censor had its world premiere on Jan. 28, 2021 at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. For more Sundance 2021 coverage, click here.