Censor Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Released by Magnet Releasing
Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond
Written by Prano Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher
2021, 84 minutes, Not Rated
Released on June 11th, 2021
Niamh Algar as Enid
Nicholas Burns as Sanderson
Sophia La Porta as Alice Lee
Michael Smiley as Doug Smart
With claims and discussion about censorship arising more and more in our country’s already-nauseating and hopelessly fractured political discourse, it’s an interesting time for a film to come along that deals so specifically with censorship in a different time. The early 1980s saw an explosion in the entertainment market, and the advent of VHS videotape led to reduced production costs for aspiring filmmakers, resulting in a glut of low-budget, hyper-violent horror films becoming available for the public to enjoy in the privacy of their homes. In the United Kingdom, this incited a “moral panic” in the British media, which asserted that the distribution and consumption of these films were directly responsible for a real-life rise in violent crime and the county’s overall moral decay. In response, British Parliament passed the Video Recordings Act of 1984, which required that all films eligible for distribution in the UK be given an age rating by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). Any films rejected by the BBFC for their content (which happened to many horror films, including now-classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Evil Dead) were essentially made illegal to sell or own. These effectively banned films were collectively known in the press as “video nasties.”
I offer that brief history lesson because one, it was a fascinating yet frustrating time in the evolution of horror cinema, and two, to provide a bit of context since this is the world that Censor’s main character, Enid (Niamh Algar), lives and works in. As part of a team in the British censors’ office, Enid dutifully watches horrifically violent film submissions day in and day out, making notes for recommended cuts (an eye-gouging here, a gratuitous rape scene there) in order for the film to be approved for a rating. Enid takes pride in her role in “protecting” people from the depravities she sees on film. Privately, she also lives with the trauma of her younger sister’s unexplained disappearance when they were both children. When a slimy producer (the always-watchable Michael Smiley, who unfortunately is on screen far too briefly) has Enid screen a new horror film called Don’t Go Into the Church, Enid becomes obsessed with proving that the film’s lead actress, Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta), is actually her long-lost sibling.
I generally love meta-cinema, and movies that incorporate elements of the filmmaking process into their narratives (think movies like Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, Robert Altman’s The Player, or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). While entertaining in their own rights, they just offer something a little more rewarding to viewers that are familiar with the behind-the-scenes mechanics of bringing a film to screen. Similar to how Berberian Sound Studio set its story in the world and mind of a giallo horror film’s sound designer, Censor gives an uncommon glimpse into what you could call post-post-production, and the arbitrary bureaucratic process that can sometimes keep viewers from seeing a film as its creators originally intended.
Unfortunately, I ultimately realized I was more interested in the throwback world that the story and characters existed in than I was in the main story and characters themselves. The scenes that establish the world – the ones in the censorship office where they discuss film cuts, as well as the blowback from press reports of a man who ate his wife’s face after seeing it in a film that had been granted classification – are all interesting. But the ones dealing with Enid’s obsession and her deteriorating mental state don’t fare as well, simply because all the beats feel so familiar. It’s not that the performances aren’t good; on the contrary, everyone acquits themselves very well, particularly Niamh Algar and Michael Smiley. But I found Enid’s character journey – as an emotionally fragile victim of a past trauma who sees herself as a savior of sorts, but may just be insane – too similar to that of the title character in Saint Maud, which I just recently watched, to find it freshly compelling. Even the climactic action and the editing of the final scene feels derivative. I have no doubt this was unintentional on the part of director Prano Bailey-Bond, but I was bummed that her otherwise well-made, well-acted, well-edited film didn’t feel more original.
Horror historians and cinephiles who get a kick out of seeing lesser-known aspects of filmmaking get their screen treatment will probably be drawn in by the film’s premise. But at the same time, film buffs who have seen more than their share of movies may be underwhelmed by the familiarity of the central story.
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