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Censor Movie Review

Written by Joanna K. Neilson

Released by Vertigo Releasing

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Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond
Written by Prano Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher
2021, 84 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on 20th August 2021

Starring:
Niamh Algar as Enid Baines
Michael Smiley as Doug Smart
Nicholas Burns as Sanderson
Vincent Franklin as Fraser

Review:

It’s the early 1980s and Britain is right in the midst of major economic and social unrest. Margaret Thatcher’s Tory regime and the constant shadow of a nuclear war are more than enough to give anyone nightmares. But what really gets the nation’s moral knickers in a twist is the terrifying cultural threat of ‘video-nasties’. As home video becomes more popular and the available horror movies on VHS ever-more extreme, hysterical newspapers and sanctmonious TV shows demand to know who will stand between the fragile minds of the British public and the corrupting influence of gory movies like The Evil Dead.

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Well, Enid (Niamh Algar) is one of those self-righteous souls, working for the BBFC to oversee and neuter the very worst content that VHS horror has to offer. Wonderfully played by Niamh Algar, to all outward appearances she’s the ultimate uptight prude, mousy, buttoned-down and super-repressed about sex and violence both on and off the screen. She’s determined to inflict her stifling morals on the rest of the viewing public. Although she does seem to have a wry sense of humour about some of the lamer special effects in those films. But one video in particular sets off a chain reaction of PTSD in Enid, causing ever-darker memories to resurface. As her perception of reality and fiction unravels, who will survive and what will be left of her?

It starts extremely well, with a pitch-perfect rendering of a gaudy, seedy, yet simultaneously very drab, era of British history. The retro clothes, music and soft-focus neon will scratch anyone’s nostalgic itch for that period. The opening hour is nicely grounded in Enid’s world, with a fascinating look at the tongue-in-cheek mindset of the censors and the Kafkaesqueness of lurid horror meeting their beige bureaucracy.

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So it’s a pity that it doesn’t do more with its brilliant opening salvo of mundane but relatable repression. Losing focus about an hour in, Censor lurches into a more psychedelic parody of the most overused horror tropes from that era. Because, to be perfectly honest, the late-eighties horror genre had its own issues with lazy dream logic and OTT gory silliness and your patience with it 40 years on may vary. The ending relies too much on those familiar, old-fashioned horror tropes and the luridness just seems to undermine all the impressively crafted intimacy it achieves with Enid in the first hour of the film.

While it’s beautifully made and the music is hauntingly good, the finale just doesn’t click. The more interesting, day to day bizarreness of working at the BBFC gets completely thrown away for a total change of pace and scene. And it’s a real shame, especially because horror expert Kim Newman is a producer behind the scenes. And it’s always great to see Michael Smiley, who’s carved out a genre niche of his own. Here he’s spot on as a scuzzy producer of the nastiest of those troublesome VHS nasties.

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But what Censor does do very well, mainly whenever we’re at Enid’s workplace, is showing the bizarre hypocrisy behind so much censorship of media and film. It’s truly bizarre that the public’s morals can possibly be entrusted to a very random group of gatekeepers. Especially when it wisely shows the harsher events happening in reality, which the news is totally free to report on. To someone, the fictional murders and manufactured fear are far more dangerous. I mean, it’s a really good thing no one was ever murdered before the rise of home video, isn’t it? And are things really much better now that private corporations hold the purse strings, demanding their own set of moral standards and other platforms in terror of their shareholders getting upset by lurid user content?

Censor does a great job questioning this moral void, and suggesting that a little fictional catharsis goes a long way to dealing with the worst humanity can do in real life.

So, despite an uneven ride, I would still strongly recommend giving Censor a look, as it nails so much of the interesting battles around the subject of ‘who chooses who censors who?’. But it doesn't quite hit the spot in the end. A really good start, but ultimately, quite a hollow finale.

Grades:

Movie: 3 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Joanna K. Neilson
Staff Reviewer - UK
Favourite film ever watched is Alien (1979), but usually prefers to ingest her horror with a dollop of comedy relief…though the dusty charm of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1971) and the black and white lure of Psycho (1960) continues to draw her in. Found Baskin weirdly hilarious. Finds Finding Nemo godawful. Adores H.P. Lovecraft and has sort-of pilgrimed to his grave in Providence - very tidy. Very long walk. Half-expected cats and cultists to be set up all around it but sadly, just signs saying ‘no photos’ in the cemetery.
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