Prano Bailey-Bond makes a powerful cinematic statement with her feature length directorial debut, Censor. This 1980s-set horror is a lyrical piece of nightmare poetry, one which draws you into its dark and hallucinogenic heart. At the centre of it is Niamh Algar’s mesmerising performance as the UK film censor whose line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred when she sees a film which echoes a painful moment from her past.
The current phenomenon of using the 1980s as the setting for films has more to do with nostalgia purposes and the use of Spielbergian tropes than it has for any narrative reason. However, Bailey-Bond and co-writer Anthony Fletcher have crafted a tale which uses the ‘80s for important thematic purposes. The home video boom at the start of the decade led to uproar from Mary Whitehouse and the NVALA, which in-turn led to an increase in film censorship. All because of the belief that children (and adults) were being corrupted by the massive influx of uncut foreign horror film along with any other title labelled a Video Nasty. Paranoia was rife – and it’s this sense of paranoia which Censor uses as a catalyst for its story. Another nod to the era comes from Michael Smiley’s sleazy producer and distributor, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Michael Lee, the founder of the notorious video distribution label, VIPCO.
Bailey-Bond creates a wonderful sense of atmosphere in the film, a claustrophobic milieu where the only real external location is a pitch black forest which feels even more restrictive than the film’s cramped offices and shadowy hallways. This is perfectly captured in the striking visuals of Annika Summerson’s cinematography and aided by Mark Town’s precision editing and Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch wonderful Suspiria-tinged score.
The visual and aural power of the film delivers as much for Algar’s Enid as it does for the audience. I fully believe that Bailey-Bond and Fletcher chose the title Censor as a play on words with ‘sensor’. Enid is as much detecting and reacting to the changes in her emotional and mental environment as she is censoring the horror movies she watches.
Algar has continued to impress with a wide-range of brilliant performances in everything from Nick Rowland’s Irish neo-western, Calm With Horses to Guy Ritchie’s actioner Wrath Of Man. Algar’s turn as Enid, the censor suffering from PTSD following the disappearance of her sister is perfectly measured. She takes the character from her fixed and ordered existence onto a dark path where she is not only haunted by her past but also her crumbling present. It’s a performance which feels very real and Algar gives Enid a humanity which continues to resonate as she descends into the darkness. It’s the little things like the way she stretches and touches her shoulders before she sets to work at her desk – it’s great character building.
A horror with many layers, Censor is fascinating piece of genre cinema which delivers much more than you initially think. It’s a film which uses the history the genre and the Video Nasty era as a way of pivoting its story to create a sense of place and tone. It’s a hugely impressive feat and it shows that Prano Bailey-Bond is a filmmaker of immense strength and skill and that Niamh Algar is a star to follow.