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Magnolia Home Entertainment // Unrated // June 11, 2021
List Price: Unknown
The conversation around censorship of art has been ongoing for many years, although public opinion shifts based on current events and culture. The horror genre is heavily impacted and influenced by censorship boards' rules that always seem to be in flux. Censor plants its roots within this world during an era of filmmaking when the underground horror scene was composed of grainy VHS tapes that contributed to the experience. Director/co-writer Prano Bailey-Bond makes her directorial debut with this slow-burn, fantastical feature that follows a woman's unravelling.
Set in the 1980s, Enid (Niamh Algar) works as a censor with the mission to protect children from the violent terrors in movies. She takes this work very seriously, as the media continues to be directly blamed for the violence in society. Meanwhile, Enid faces her past and tries to solve the mystery of her younger sister's disappearance. The stress between Enid's work and her past trauma set her upon a path that blurs the lines between reality and fiction.
Bailey-Bond immediately sets the stage by showing some of the gore from some classic horror cult films that continue to shock and disgust many viewers to this day, even despite the obviously fake blood splatter, as is even mentioned in the film. There are a few conversations scattered throughout the film regarding content censorship, although it never truly plays its hand. Bailey-Bond and co-writer Anthony Fletcher explore many of the story's themes symbolically, rather than narratively. Despite its short runtime of 84 minutes, this slow-burn horror film never feels like it's rushing. At times, it suffers from being overly vague in its narrative and its ability to bring the viewer into Enid's mental state.
Censor certainly lives on the arthouse side of the horror genre, although it has a unique identity. It has a dark sense of humor that would especially get some uncomfortable laughs out of a crowd in a theater or a more traditional film festival viewing experience. However, these moments feel true to the spirit and central message of the film. The slight tonal shifts are particularly successful thanks to the film's gorgeous use of cinematography. The changes in color scheme, aspect ratio, and camerawork truly create the illusion of a world caught in between fantasy and reality, as Enid's psyche continues to be put to the test.
The biggest disappointment about Censor is that it pulls its punches. The film holds itself back from going as far as it could have--and should have--gone. There are a few gory moments, but the film's most shocking scenes are clips from other horror films being shown. Additionally, it doesn't really go into the meat of film censorship, which feels like a missed opportunity. Enid's job acts more as a setting than it does as an active part of the narrative.
That said, Censor is a solid debut from Bailey-Bond. It feels like an arthouse B-movie that embraces both parts of its identity through its captivating visuals, immersive score, and strong performance from Algar. At its core, this slow-burn character study is about trauma and how we cope with the real horror in our own lives, although it could have pushed the envelope a bit further. With its quick 84-minute runtime, it doesn't overstay its welcome. Censor is narratively and symbolically hesitant, but its premise based in 1980s censorship makes this worth checking out.