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Censor (2021) Review

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Censor

Time: 84  Minutes
Cast:
Niamh Algar as Enid Baines
Nicholas Burns as Sanderson
Vincent Franklin as Fraser
Sophia La Porta as Alice Lee
Adrian Schiller as Frederick North
Michael Smiley as Doug Smart
Director: Prano Bailey-Bond

After viewing a strangely familiar video nasty, Enid (Niamh Algar), a film censor, sets out to solve the past mystery of her sister’s disappearance, embarking on a quest that dissolves the line between fiction and reality.

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I heard about Censor earlier this year, all I knew about it was that it was a British psychological horror film involving censors, it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and some people liked it. I really didn’t know what to expect beyond that and so I went into the movie mostly blind. I’m glad I did, going in with no expectations, I found myself really on board with where the movie went.

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Censor’s plot is definitely set against a retro backdrop, so it is worth noting the setting. The setting is the mid-80s during the era of the video nasties, in which low-budget exploitation movies were deemed a danger to society and the cause of murder, violence and the like. Censor applies this concept, connecting it to an intriguing character study, in which it focuses on the life and struggles of a film censor. This film censor finds uncanny similarities between the videos she watches, and her childhood experiences and trauma, and she begins going down a trippy rabbit hole. I will say that the movie didn’t have many twists and turns with its plot development, but it didn’t really need to. I was intrigued enough by the story and where it went. As you would expect with a movie having censorship as one of the key aspects, Censor touches on the question about whether watching violence on video or film would make people prone to commit violence themselves. I thought tha and the commentary on censorship was quite interesting. Despite this, the focus is more with the protagonist and her story for the most part, which was probably for the best. Even though it does take a slow pacing through the story, I was invested going along this journey with protagonist Enid. Unfortunately I do think the movie struggles to combine the two strongest parts, the setting with the video nasty era, and the character study. When it’s focusing on one at a time it really works, not so much when the film tries to combine them. In the end the censorship and video nasties aspect take a back seat later on in the movie anyway, and I felt the two elements could’ve been integrated better. Also the movie really feels like two halves, each of which almost feel like different movies. The first half is a slow but intriguing mystery, the second half picks up the pace but probably a little too much, with the change in pace being a little too quick. While I do enjoy the third act and the ending, it does go off the rails here, for better and for worse. Looking back at the story and themes, it doesn’t quite come together. It really needed a longer runtime to bring everything together. Speaking of which, the movie is only 80 minutes long. For some it will feel longer because of the pacing but I was invested in this atmospheric ride, and I think it would’ve been better if it was at least 10-15 minutes longer.

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This movie is essentially anchored by the nuanced and strong performance from lead actor Niamh Algar. As Enid she’s hypnotising and a great strong on-screen presence. She is playing a character who slowly unravels as the memories of her long missing sister resurface and intertwine with the movies she watches every day. Most of the movie is just following her, and she carries the movie incredibly well. Although Algar is definitely the highlight, the rest of the cast are all doing great in their roles as well.

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Censor is the directorial debut of Prano Bailey-Bond, and it was quite a good first film from her. Immediately you can tell from the style that its paying tribute and taking influence from a lot of great horror auteurs from the 80s, including Dario Argento, Brian De Palma, and David Cronenberg. At times it does become a little too fond of its influences, but for the most part Bailey-Bond’s direction is its own thing. It is very effective from an aesthetic standpoint, for one it has a throwback look to it, with the production design and use of 35mm film at points. If you also really like neon bathed cinematography, Censor has a lot of that. The editing is great, and the sound effects and score add a lot to the atmosphere that the movie slowly builds. There is gore in this movie, but don’t expect a lot of it.

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Censor will be divisive among many people (even those who like horror) but it was a good ode to the video nasty era and a solid psychological horror thriller. Though it doesn’t feel complete by the end with regard to the plot and themes, and I had some issues with the way the story is structured and turns out, I was intrigued all the way through, the direction was great, and Niamh Algar was fantastic in the lead role. If you like horror, I think Censor is worth a watch, especially if you like the video nasty era that the movie is paying tribute to.