Sundance Review: ‘Censor’ Is Muted Tones With 80’s Horror

Censor is a smoky, eerie, down-the-rabbit-hole horror that mixes the best sound effects styles of 80s horror with watered-down colors. The story is about the mental deterioration of Enid (Niamh Algar), who spends her days protecting the general public from video nasties—horror films that are too violent or gory. She watches films from start to finish and recommends whether they should be banned. 

The 80s were a time of excess and strife, and no medium was exempt. Everything was bigger and pushed the boundaries. So, the government deemed this excess dangerous—film and music primarily—and sought to place restrictions to protect general viewers. Enid spends her days watching films with mutilation, dismemberment, rape, and deciding if they have crossed the line. 

But Enid is haunted by her sister Nina’s disappearance when they were children. The fact that she was there yet couldn’t protect from the unseen horror torments her. Nor was she able to remember precisely what occurred that day and so it continues to enshroud her. Her parents resign themselves to never knowing what happened to their other child. For Enid’s sake as well, they feel compelled to move on. But then, Enid views a film that hits too close to home. That, combined with a real life tragedy causes Enid’s mind to deteriorate. This coalesces into a crusade for Enid to heroically locate and rescue her sister from the “nasties” that took her away. 

Visually Creeps Into The Viewer
Censor image of writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond
Prano Bailey-Bond, director of Censor, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Written and directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, this feature debut is an amazing feat that balances the tightrope of penning a love letter to 80s horror while creating something original. The visuals are at once muted shades with dispersement of wispy and dreamlike moments. Particularly as Enid’s mental state continues unraveling. The position between her present-day blame and the resentment her parents, father especially, harbor toward her is a critique both on society and where the real nasties lie. 

Niamh Algar underplays the character and yet it’s still compelling. She is someone trying to hold herself together but has lost her footing. Around her, everyone is more emotional while she holds herself in restraint reminiscent of 80s films like Sleepaway Camp. And, like the aforementioned film, this ending will visually stick with you. The dreamlike quality, particularly at the end, brings to mind Friday The 13th, except here, the villain is leaping out, but smiling in a manner they must believe to be serene but forces us to recline as far back as possible to put distance between us. 

The Nasties Can’t Be Contained In A VHS

Though Enid’s work will be held to blame for her unraveling, the nasties were implanted in her long before. Whether she killed her sister or feels she might as well have is not fully clear. But what is clear is the guilt she embodies that has guided her decisions, including working as a censor. Even today, we often hear arguments faulting films, video games, and music for the actions of people. While some people are impressionable, like Enid, there has to be a trauma already present. Murder and violence in real life rarely occur out of thin air. That’s something we tell ourselves to avoid the guilt that comes with ignoring the signs. 

By the end, the reality and film nasties become blurred for Enid because there’s no escaping her guilt and her perceived responsibility. The nasties we should guard against are the ones residing within us and yet we project outward in the hopes that defeating the perceived nasties around us will silence the ones lurking inside. For Enid, there’s no distinction between what lies within and without; not anymore. But at least, in her mind, a video nasty can be defeated and she can now be the savior she always wanted to be. 

Censor is both chilling and beautiful, both horrific and lovely, and a must see.

Censor trailer from Magnolia Picture & Magnet Releasing via Youtube

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