Directed by: Prano Bailey-Bond
Premise: Set in the UK during the video nasties panic of the 1980s, a BBFC film censor (Niamh Algar) becomes obsessed with the work of a sleezy director, believing that his films are connected to the disappearance of her sister.
What Works: In the early 1980s, the United Kingdom was consumed by a moral panic about so-called “video nasties.” British society was among the first to embrace home video technology and the VHS market was flooded with low budget horror films that evaded the country’s censorship apparatus. It was believed that these films, such as Cannibal Holocaust, Evil Dead, and I Spit on Your Grave, were dangerous to society and had to be censored for the public good. This resulted in legal actions to reign in the video market. The 2021 film Censor is set in the middle of that hysteria. It captures the look and feel of its time in the sets and costumes but also in the recreations of low budget 1980s horror videos. The story centers around a female censor who is haunted by the childhood disappearance of her sister; without overstating it, the filmmakers draw connections between this woman’s grief and guilt and her work as a film censor. The picture succeeds as a portrait of obsession and madness in part because of its superb filmmaking. Director Prano Bailey-Bond sets up sequences in ways that draw out the subtext and the film masterfully blends fantasy and reality. Censor also benefits from the performance by Niamh Algar in the lead role. The character’s grief is observable in the subtle details of Algar’s performance and her transformation is credible and consistent with the pitch of the filmmaking.
What Doesn’t: Censor is very much a British horror film in that the story is rooted at a specific moment in that country’s history. Viewers who are unaware of that history ought to be able to follow the story but they may not grasp all of the film’s implications and references.
DVD extras: Featurettes.
Bottom Line: Censor is a smart and skillfully made horror picture. It tells a story that is unnerving for its visceral shocks but also for the way illusion and reality bleed into one another. Censor also has some provocative things to say about personal and societal repression.
Episode: #874 (October 24, 2021)