DISCLAIMER: Magnolia Pictures provided me with a review screener before its theatrical release date.
In the 1980s, when VHS tapes became so commonplace that anyone could set up a camera and release a new film to the masses, more and more people were creating low-budget horror films in their backyards. For the United Kingdom, this presented a sociopolitical problem. Since there was no form of rating board or any kind of censorship available for VHS, the public panicked and feared that these new types of films, often referred to as “video nasties,” were capable of birthing murderers and rapists who wanted to recreate the actions they saw in these films.
Politically, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of a country that was filled with poverty and crime. So, Margaret Thatcher decided to crackdown. Under the 1984 Act, the British Board of Film Censors was renamed the British Board of Film Classification and became responsible for classifying films considered for release in theaters or video. Any film releasing after September 1st, 1985 would have to comply now and be submitted for classification by the BBFC. Films that were released on video had to be re-submitted for classification within the following three years. Notable films banned from release were The Exorcist, Straw Dogs, The Evil Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among many others.
So, how does this relate to Censor? Well, it’s all about this era. Enid Baines (played by Niamh Algar) is a film censor that is meticulous about her work to shield unsuspecting audiences from the psychological effects of watching the gore-filled films she watches on a daily basis. Driving her sense of duty is her guilt over her inability to recall key details of her sister’s disappearance long ago.
Should you be making a trip to your theater (or your couch), or should you censor this film from your brain? That, of course, is always up to you, but I think you should go out and see Censor as soon as possible (bonus points if you watch it on a CRT!). Sure, it’s got problems, but you can easily ignore them just as soon as they come up in the film.
Before I get into my review, I must say that this film may be considered uncomfortable for viewers. Enid watches several video nasties, which include beheadings, heads being drilled into, an eyeball being stabbed with a syringe, an offscreen rape. She is also involved in altercations, both of which end with blood splatter. I will not include any of that imagery in the following review.
I know I always say this when I enjoy a film, but I love the direction director Prano Bailey-Bond goes with Censor. Bailey-Bond goes full into the inner psyche of Enid Baines and never relents – even when it gets uncomfortable. We’ve seen a ton of these movies in recent years (the most direct ones being i’m thinking of ending things, Possessor, Midsommar, and She Dies Tomorrow), but where Censor sets itself apart is that it uses Enid’s fears to drive the discussion of the so-called “video nasties” without having the character just standing around and receiving this information. She’s living it.
It’s not work. I do it to protect people.
– Enid Baines (played by Niamh Algar)
Anthony Fletcher’s screenplay amplifies this aspect. Enid is not ever called crazy (outside a co-worker saying she’s “losing the plot”); she’s just grieving the loss of closure after her sister’s disappearance and protecting the public from that grief she feels. The only minor gripe I have about Enid’s journey is that part of it feels devoid of logic. Towards the end, I felt a steep decline in Fletcher’s ability to explain why Enid was able to figure out a clue. At points, she literally stumbles onto clues, and it doesn’t make sense why. A larger point that I couldn’t understand is why the film feels the need to explain political motivations by the British society offscreen when it’s clear from the get-go. It’s a form of doublespeak that doesn’t make sense to me and isn’t necessary. Additionally, the film takes a direction that I don’t like towards the ending that seems to come out of left field, especially considering everything leading up to that point. It made me feel like I just invested my 90 minutes into a film that isn’t interested in following the natural through-line – some may see this as a good thing, but it was just odd to me.
Annika Summerson’s cinematography is all about lighting. There are tons of sharp colors throughout the film that give you just enough information to suggest that you should let your eyes drift around the frame and see what you catch. I won’t say why, but one of my favorite things about a film is watching how the colors shift over time and how that portrays that person. Color can tell us so much, and I’m grateful that Summerson adds to the character by just dropping these hints throughout.
The editing, you would think, would play a big part in the film. But, surprisingly, editor Mark Towns doesn’t give the film a lot of flair. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, films don’t necessarily need to have the flashiest editing, but I do wish the film had at least tried something to emulate the “video nasties” style of editing.
You’d be surprised what the human brain can edit out when it can’t handle the truth.
– Perkins (played by Danny Lee Wynter)
The cast is out of this world good. Niamh Algar plays Enid Baines and hits this out of the park. The first time you see her, she’s very unassuming. So, when her mental health starts deteriorating and you start to see the cracks in her psyche, Algar is stupendous at acting like keeping all her emotions inside and trying to hide what she’s feeling. Before watching Censor,I hadn’t seen any of Algar’s previous work, but I’m excited to see what she does next if this anything to go on. Likewise, Nicholas Burns, Felicity Montagu, Felicity Montagu, Danny Lee Wynter, Clare Perkins play their mundane parts well – they’re not trying to overstep Algar’s performance. That way, the film has room for the performances by Michael Smiley, Adrian Schiller, Sophia La Porta, Guillaume Delaunay to act their butts off against Algar.
The soundtrack can be best described as something you would expect to see in a film about 1980s horror. It’s very synth-driven, building an extra layer of atmosphere on top of the already excellent cinematography. It creates this sense of “what’s that lurking in the shadows?” that I think adds to Enid’s declining mental health and that somebody is hiding something from her.
If you’re a horror fan or even a fan of films that explore sociopolitical conflicts, check Censor out either in theaters or catch it on demand.
Censor is now in theaters nationwide and on-demand on June 18th.
Until next time!