Film Review: Censor

Spoilers!

Masterful acting by Niamh Algar in Censor.

I love creative, original horror films, and I would add, some of the best acting occurs in horror films. The film I’m talking about is the 2021 British horror film, Censor, starring Niamh Algar in the lead role as Enid, who works for the government censors during the 1980s to ensure the “video nasties” (exploitative horror films) aren’t, well, too nasty. The film is available on Hulu, for your information.

Prano Bailey-Bond is behind the director’s chair in her first feature film and the script (Anthony Fletcher also receives a credit for the script), with cinematography by Annika Summerson. Summerson’s cinematography is gorgeous throughout, evoking a noir element, while also beautifully situating the film within the 1980s and giving it a VHS vibe. Which, I must say, I am, of course, nostalgic for the VHS vibe! But also, Bailey-Bond’s directing is notable here, primarily with her use of transitions from one scene to the next. It is seamless, interesting, and conveys the sense of Enid’s unraveling.

Before her unraveling, Enid is “little miss perfect” to her co-workers; someone who just wants to do her job well, but behind the scenes, she is barely holding it together. Her little sister, Nina, disappeared years ago after playing in the forest with Enid, and her parents are ready to declare her legally dead so they can all move on. Enid is not ready to move on. She is convinced Nina is still alive.

The censors are under a lot of pressure because the tabloids are linking the “film nasties” to rising crime and chaos in Britain. In fact, the British government is raiding video stores for selling banned exploitative horror films. The people behind the censors, like Enid, are taking extra heat after a man murders his wife and children and blames it on a film Enid and her colleague allowed. The man also has no memory of having carried out the brutal killings. This makes Enid, I think, believe it is possible that she killed her sister, but doesn’t remember having done so. In that way, there is deeper meaning behind the title of the film: The brain, due to trauma and stress, is the real censor.

Eventually, Enid is tasked with watching a film by Frederick North, Don’t Go in the Church, which eerily resembles her memories of what happened with her sister: Her and her sister in the woods, and her pressuring Nina to go into a building. Unlike her memories, in the film, the older sister brutally kills the younger sister. Watching that film sends Enid unraveling further — nice little touches of this by Algar and Bailey-Bond is that Enid’s hair isn’t as conservative anymore (in a bit of disarray), she’s picking at her fingers, and she’s taken to tightly biting back on her lips — to where she seeks out more North films. She comes to believe that the actress Alice Lee, who starred in the North film she watches, is her sister.

She then confronts Doug, a sleazy producer, about it at his home. When he tries to sexually assault her, she shoves him backward into some film award, where he is impaled through the back of the head and out of his mouth; he gurgles to death. It is stunning, shocking and gross. Then, Enid, in her way of trying to regain control, rolls her shoulders back, breathes and thanks him for the scotch before leaving. At that point, you know she has lost it. It gives me goosebumps to recount it.

Eventually, she tracks down the location of North’s latest film shoot, the crew assumes her to be an actress, and as part of the “plot,” she barges in on the “Beastman” trying to kill what Enid believes to be her sister. So, she axes the man to death. For real. Alice Lee, the actress, screams out in concern that she’s killed Charles. Alice flees, and North comes into the cabin flummoxed. Enid beheads him and chases after Alice. She tries to explain to Alice that we’re sisters and she’s trying to help. Enid just wants to return her sister back home to her parents. Alice runs off and Enid lies her head down on the rock pleading over and over, “Please be her. Please. Please be her.” Again, terrific, terrific acting from Algar. Again, I’m getting goosebumps because I will always appreciate someone who displays unfathomable grief on the screen well and that is what Algar pulled off.

We then transition to reality having completely disintegrated for Enid, to where she is imagining a Heaven where Britain is peaceful again (can’t have those nasties causing mayhem in the streets), the sisters are together, and she returns Nina to her parents. However, there are flashes of the sinister evil beneath the façade. After all, as North told Enid in a bid to get the best acting out of her, everyone has a little bit of evil in them.

That is the story here, after all. It isn’t that the “video nasties” are causing crime; it is that people already have within them the capacity for horror. So it was with Enid, or at least, grief was the triggering point.

I highly, highly recommend this stylish, deeply interesting, and unsettling horror film. Also, it is only 80-ish minutes. I love a horror movie that does what it needs to do and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. And the film did make me jump at one point! Algar’s performance is something I’ll be thinking about forever. I still hear, “Please be her. Please.” It was agonizing. If nothing else, watch the film for her performance, and while you’re there, enjoy the promising style from first time feature film director Bailey-Bond.

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