03rd Aug2021

Sundance London 2021: ‘Censor’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, Michael Smiley | Written by Prano Bailey-Bond, Anthony Fletcher | Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond

Debut director Prano Bailey-Bond adapts her acclaimed short film Nasty into this feature length British horror set at the height of the panic over “video nasties”. Stylish and richly atmospheric, Censor represents a strong calling card for Bailey-Bond, who also co-wrote the script with Anthony Fletcher.

Rising star Niamh Algar (Calm With Horses, Raised By Wolves) plays Enid, a censor working at the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) in 1985, whose days are spent watching gory horror films and arguing with her colleagues over what needs to be cut out (sample dialogue: “I kept the tug of war between the intestines, but the eye-gouging has to go”). When she watches a film called Don’t Go Into the Church, Enid becomes increasingly unsettled, because certain scenes trigger memories of her own repressed trauma, when her younger sister Nina suddenly disappeared while they were playing in a forest as children.

Enid becomes convinced that the film’s sleazy producer Doug (Michael Smiley) and exploitation director Frederick North (Adrian Schiller) must know something about what happened her sister, so she sets out to investigate. Meanwhile, she faces a crisis on the work front after a film she passed inspires a copycat killing, sparking a media frenzy.

The scenes set in the BBFC offices are a pure delight, thanks to blackly comic dialogue and enjoyable performances from familiar British comedy faces like Nicholas Burns and Vincent Franklin as Enid’s colleagues. Similarly, Bailey-Bond does a terrific job of capturing the 1980s setting, from the smoke-filled beige interiors to glimpses of Thatcher and Mary Whitehouse on TV, both surely more chilling than any celluloid horror.

In addition, Bailey-Bond evokes a suitably chilling atmosphere, as Enid becomes more and more unravelled, suggesting a gradual loss of sanity, or perhaps the emergence of something darker. This is heightened by some excellent production design work, including an unsettling use of colour and lurid lighting from cinematographer Annika Summerson.

Algar is superb in the lead role, effortlessly convincing as someone gradually losing their grip on sanity. There’s also reliably colourful support from Michael Smiley, whose presence in a horror movie is always a good sign.

There are a few issues, however. The main problem is that Censor occasionally feels like two different movies – the black comedy of the BBFC office and the descent-into-madness horror – and there’s a frustrating lack of connection between them. It doesn’t help that the moral panic over the copycat killing subplot doesn’t really go anywhere, when that seemed rich with possibility.

On top of that, given the title and the topic (not to mention the glimpses of actual video nasties like Driller Killer), you’re primed to expect something truly horrible in the gore department, so it’s a little disappointing that the film opts for some fairly tame blood and guts action instead. Indeed, the real-life BBFC have chosen to give this a 15 certificate, underlining the irony that a film about video nasties isn’t quite nasty enough.

*** 3/5

Censor screened as part of this years London Sundance Film Festival.


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