Censor: a Vibrant Homage to 1980s 'nasties'
In director Prano Bailey-Bond's bold and exciting feature film debut, Censor, Niamh Algar (Calm With Horses) plays Enid, a young woman struggling with unresolved family trauma from 20 years ago: the disappearance of her sister, Nina, who went missing in the woods. The film's present is 1985, and Enid works for a governmental outfit censoring films for offensive and obscene content. Although Enid's place of work remains unnamed, it is presumably a take on the British Board of Film Censors. The latter were renamed as the British Board of Film Certification after the government passed the Video Recordings Act 1984.
Censor is full of references to this significant moment in British media history. An opening montage of archive footage highlights the moral outrage levelled at horror films of the time that were seen to be corrupting young audiences. Especially those unsupervised viewers consuming these 'nasty' films via the new format of VHS. The resulting moral panic brought about the listing of Video Nasties, with 39 films eventually prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act.
But in Censor, Enid's job role raises a notion of horror cinema as a place of catharsis for grief and trauma. At the same time, the film nudges audiences to consider why we're so often drawn to the imagery of horror. But when she is assigned to assess a title called Don't Go in the Church by infamous director Frederick North (Adrian Schiller) and produced by Doug Smart (the always-brilliant Michael Smiley), the film features details which mirror that of her sister's own disappearance, and Enid's rigid, composed demeanour begins to unravel.
Censor is a vibrant, twisted and assured debut from director and co-writer Bailey-Bond following the success of her short film Nasty (2015). Steeped in rich 1980s aesthetics and with segments of the film shot on both 35mm and 8mm film, its visuals are distinct and powerful, captured brilliantly by cinematographer Annika Summerson (Mogul Mowgli). Editor Mark Towns also continues a brilliant run of work in British horror, fresh off his stint on Rose Glass' Saint Maud in 2019. With a visual style and tone reminiscent of Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio (2012)and In Fabric (2018), and with a brilliant, powerful lead performance by Niamh Algar, Censor is one of the year's most striking British films.
This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 5 August 2021.