Written by Prano Bailey-Bond & Anthony Fletcher
Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond
As the home video market grew in the late 1970s and into the 1980s/90s, the United Kingdom clamped down on horror and pornography films they deemed harmful to society. This came as a result of significant film distributors keeping away from that market out of privacy fears. The gap was filled by an avalanche of low-budget content. The British Board of Film Censors employed people to watch these movies and determine a rating, and also, if they were so beyond the pale, they should have prosecution brought against them. These films would garner the nickname “video nasties.” It’s against this moral panic over movies that the film Censor takes place.
Enid (Niamh Algar) is a censor for the Film Board and spends her days watching gruesome cheap horror flicks & jotting down notes to determine if the picture should be released. She has no social life outside of the occasional dinner with her parents. Years earlier, when Enid was a child, her sister went missing, and this tragedy haunts her family. While watching a new film by infamous director Frederick North, Enid glimpses a woman she becomes convinced is her sister, now an adult. This leads her down a twisting paranoid path of sleazy producers, distrustful coworkers, and ultimately a film set in the middle of the woods.
Censor is very much a character study of Enid set in a very giallo-inspired world. We see everything through Enid’s perspective, which is affected by her daily film viewing. She is a fascinating character in that she is surrounded by horror media yet by no means a fan or even interested in the genre. She’s an outsider to the culture that makes up horror filmmaking and fandom, yet it has devoured her life. Some interesting things are happening in the background, concerning a man who murdered his wife in a fashion similar to a newly released slasher flick, but the movie doesn’t really explore those. Instead, they become window dressing in Enid’s story.
Where we needed more development was in Enid’s sister’s disappearance. The details are pretty vague, but I think filling in those a bit more could have helped amp up the emotional involvement in our protagonist’s story. Most of the time is spent in inter-office conversations between Enid and her fellow censors. It is such an odd job to monitor and edit culture under the auspice of helping keep society moral. They see themselves as at odds with their stated goal and the broken nature of the system they operate within. But even that is lightly touched upon. Ultimately the film succumbs to a little too much style over substance, but even the style isn’t terribly remarkable.
I think the decision to make the movie about this missing sister and Enid’s personal mental health issues is the downfall of the picture. Instead, shifting the focus to her role as a censor and what that means would have been more interesting, in my opinion. There is a very Kafkaesque element to the movie, with Enid running in circles trying to accomplish her goal of tracing the origins of this suspect film and processing the loss of her sister. I think the script does an excellent job of making us feel the dissatisfaction Enid experiences in her day-to-day life and with this particular quest. But there comes the point where that constant refusal to bring the film to a solid conclusion gets in the way of the story. The final scene is brilliant and made me wish the rest of the movie had leaned into that disturbing mood.
Overall, Censor was a pretty big disappointment for me. I have appreciated the trend of slow-burn horror films in the last few years, but some of the more recent entries into this stylistic subgenre are lacking in delivery. The atmosphere has taken the place of solid character development, and you need that for audiences to be invested in what happens to these people throughout the story. The concept of Censor and many of the elements involved are fantastic; the final project lacks a cohesive piece that pulls it all together.