Sundance 2021: 'Censor' is a Blood-Soaked 80s Ode to Video Nasties
by Zofia Wijaszka
February 1, 2021
Before blood-dripping horror movies became an integral part of our pop culture, there were "video nasties." The term was born in the UK and referred to the gory, violent films, mostly C-level creations, distributed on VHS tapes and heavily criticized by the press, government, and society. While some people basked in said horrors, at the time the UK government feared for children's safety and the effects that these films could have on individuals. In the Sundance premiere Censor, directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, Enid (played by Niamh Algar) has an unusual job. Depending on the amount of violence in each film, her assignment is to determine whether the horror film passes or is rejected. Her days are saturated with scenes of blood, gore, and oftentimes rape. But she believes thoroughly in her work. Enid prevents people from seeing too much, continuously thinking about their mental health and psyche. She is the titular censor, and she thrives on it.
That does, however, change. A particular film irreversibly transforms her life. When Enid watches the video nasty Don't Go in The Church, directed by the mysterious Frederick North (played by Adrian Schiller), her mind is flooded with not so pleasant memories of her missing sister. Reality mixes with the films she's seen and, at the end of the day, leads Enid directly to a bizarre, eerie experience in the film's third act, the atmosphere of which is similar to the dream-like Twin Peaks episode but bloodier. Algar's performance is a thought-provoking, spectacular tour de force. Enid is rather modest. She wears square-shaped glasses on a silver chain and sheery, ironed button-ups. The visual aesthetic of her character reminds me of Elisabeth Moss in Josephine Decker’s Shirley. Her deep, raspy voice adds to the overall creepy atmosphere, whether Enid is talking about rape scenes she's just seen or about her missing sister.
Censor is set in the 1980s and Prano Bailey-Bond attempts to visualize the streets of Europe of that time period. Viewers have the chance to explore the subject of C-level horror movies and see the United Kingdom as it was forty-something years ago. '80s Europe is much different than 80s America. In the film, it's much more poignant. Gloomier. The director captures that gloom perfectly well. It manifests itself not only in the characters. We can see it in the phenomenal production design by Paulina Rzeszowska (also of Saint Maud) who uses every surface she can work with.
The film is filled with neon lighting and dream-like elements that are integrated deeper into the frame than what is happening on the screen. It's hard to make a dream-infused movie like Censor and have it not be too confusing. But the director does an exceptional job of doing so. Furthermore, the film raises an important question: Is the evil and gore, in particularly gory films, contagious? How can a censor save themselves if what they're doing is supposed to be extremely harmful to people? As the character spirals into the realm of her personal nightmares saturated with the violence from the video nasties, Enid attempts to address this question. Our protagonist, the protector of the people's minds eventually becomes the victim of her own profession that she previously thrived on so much. By creating Enid and her narrative, Bailey-Bond forces us to think and reflect on the work that censors do daily and how it may affect their lives and mental health.
The filmmakers behind Censor have masterfully crafted a film that's an ode to living in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and its divided views regarding horror films and many other aspects of society at that time. Simultaneously, the film is more than just that. It's about the closure that we, as people, sometimes don't get and further try so hard to make sense of in situations that have no meaning whatsoever. The role of Enid feels like it was written specifically for Algar. Her character delves into this thesis posed by the director and demonstrates one of the many possible outcomes. Bailey-Bond also superbly explores the topic of the video nasties and further welcomes us to research the subject and engage in even more conversations about the possible damaging effects of extremely gory horror films.
Zofia's Sundance 2021 Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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