CENSOR (2021)

Greetings again from the darkness. Will Hayes is likely the only film censor most movie buffs can name, and it’s been more than ninety years since the “Hays Code” first went into effect. Despite the relative obscurity of the profession, the first feature film from Prano Bailey-Bond, places censor Enid Baines (Niamh Algar, WRATH OF MAN, 2021) at the forefront of a prime midnight movie … a horror film about horror films. Ms. Bailey-Bond has adapted her own short film NASTY (2015) with the help of co-writer Anthony Fletcher, and for the most part, the changes work quite well.

The story is set in 1985 when “video nasties”, the U.K. label for slasher films, were at the peak of their popularity thanks to the convenience of VHS tapes. Many argued these films, typically independent and low budget productions, were influential in allowing sadistic violence to seep into society. As a film censor, Enid (an excellent Algar), who dresses and carries herself like a 1950’s librarian, is responsible for making sure the fictional violence on screen doesn’t cross the line of what’s acceptable and clearly fictional. Enid takes her job extremely seriously and is annoyed when people mistakenly assume she is in “entertainment”. For Enid, it’s all about protecting the public.

Bailey-Bond jams a lot into 84 minutes … much more than most horror films attempt. Enid’s backstory, and really the driving force for the film, involves her sister’s disappearance when they were kids. It remains an unsolved mystery, and Enid often suffers flashbacks and dream sequences – none more vivid than when one of the movies she’s watching triggers hope of resolution and a mash-up of fiction and reality. This kicks the movie into a different gear, as we are no longer caught up in Enid’s stress censoring movies, but rather in her desperate search to solve the mystery of her sister.

Multiple sub-plots (or at least story lines) exist, including Enid’s strained relationship with her parents – with an underlying theme of blame – and a real world tragic event that may implicate Enid’s work. At play throughout is the existence of violence against women, and Michael Smiley (FREE FIRE, 2016) portrays a sleazy producer whose actions are likely similar to many in the mid-80’s. Much of the third act is surreal as Enid crosses over onto the set of director Frederick North’s (Adrian Schiller) latest movie after she sees a possible connection to her sister in North’s previous film “Don’t Go in the Church”. The production design by Paulina Rzeszowska (SAINT MAUD) and the cinematography of Annika Summerston are noteworthy. With Enid wielding both a pen and an axe, the film is a bit deranged and disorienting, but a nice fit for the midnight movie crowd.

In theaters June 11, 2021


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